Friday, 26 March 2010

Free Trade Undermining Rights in Peru

By Milagros Salazar

Thursday, 25 March 2010(IPS) - Peru is enthusiastically espousing free trade, and has signed six tariff-lowering agreements in the space of a year. But it has not matched them with the internal policies needed to reduce their impact on labour rights, the environment, and sensitive areas like agriculture, social organisations and experts say.

"Who benefits from these free trade agreements (FTA)? What policies have been put in place to ensure fairer redistribution of the profits from foreign trade? Over the last year, only a handful of people have benefited," Alejandra Alayza, coordinator of the Peruvian Network for Globalisation with Equity (RedGE), told IPS.

The United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA) came into effect Feb. 1, 2009 and set the pattern for negotiating the terms and conditions of subsequent agreements, Alayza said. It was followed by FTAs with Chile, Mercosur (the Southern Common Market, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), Canada, Singapore and China.

This month saw the conclusion of negotiations on an FTA with the European Union, and Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde has already announced that the government of President Alan García is intent on closing similar deals with Japan and South Korea.

Peru is also entering into talks with Central America, the Dominican Republic and the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, which includes Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and other countries.

"In the context of signing so many FTAs, it is essential to guarantee labour rights so that workers share in the benefits," Alayza emphasised.

Former deputy Labour Minister Julio Gamero, an expert on labour issues, told IPS that the PTPA with the United States has not improved employment conditions and workers' rights in the country. In fact, he said, in some ways they have worsened.

The number of collective bargaining agreements between organised workers and employers on wages and conditions was 434 in 2007, but declined sharply to 364 in 2008 and 233 in 2009.

Health and safety inspections of workplaces in the Lima metropolitan area also fell, from 742 in 2008 to 326 in 2009, while the proportion of workers belonging to trade unions dropped from 7.1 percent of those in formal jobs in 2007, to 4.5 percent in 2009.

The agricultural exports sector, which reaps the most benefits from the PTPA, has only five workers' unions among its 1,500 companies.

Aspects such as the right to form trade unions, wage conditions and compliance with the country's labour laws were incorporated as an annex on labour issues in the PTPA, only after pressure was exerted by social organisations.

However, "the authorities have only adopted short-term measures," said Gamero, who was in the administration of former president Alejandro Toledo, García's predecessor.

Gamero said that only when a U.S. delegation came to Lima in January to examine labour issues was it announced that a liaison office would be set up between the government and trade unions to deal with conflicts and workers' demands.

"A year has gone by, and only this one meagre step has been taken, while dismissals of union leaders and workers who join unions continue apace," he complained.

Neither have measures been taken to cushion the negative impacts on the most sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, experts say.

Only three percent of Peru's agricultural land is used for growing asparagus, mango, sweet peppers and other leading agricultural exports, the sector that is most favoured by the PTPA with the United States.

In contrast, 73 percent of agricultural land is used to cultivate potato, rice, maize, coffee, sugarcane and cotton, which are particularly sensitive products under the agreement, because of the subsidies paid to U.S. producers of these foods.

President García "promised he would renegotiate the PTPA in order to protect peasant farmers and institute compensatory prices and subsidies for three products (maize, cotton and wheat), but he has not done so," Alayza said.

Agricultural expert Miguel Macedo proposed an automatic tariff mechanism to correct price distortions in the case of subsidised products imported from industrialised countries. He also proposed carrying out a detailed census of agricultural producers, and improving the country's estimates for production quantities and the impact of the FTAs.

These proposals are among several initiatives for internal discussions that have been raised by various non-governmental organisations in the context of Peru's removal of its trade barriers.

With regard to environmental issues, a new forestry and wildlife law including the views of indigenous people and civil society is still pending approval by Congress.

While preparing the way for the PTPA with the United States, Peru's forestry laws were modified by a legislative decree, which was later repealed after mass protests by forest-dwelling indigenous peoples.

In August 2009, the Agriculture Ministry declared that revising and updating the law, by means of a participative, decentralised and nationwide process, was a priority. But a secretariat for this purpose was not set up until December.

After the June 2009 conflict in the jungle province of Bagua, in which 33 police and indigenous people were killed when the security forces cracked down on a protest by native demonstrators, the executive branch held meetings for dialogue, seeking views on the forestry laws. But Sandro Chávez, head of Foro Ecológico, a biodiversity conservation organisation, told IPS that the government's draft law does not reflect the contributions made by experts and indigenous peoples at those meetings.

Another aspect of the PTPA that has come under expert criticism is its protection of intellectual property rights over test data on new medicines. PTPA rules allow pharmaceutical companies to withhold information about any patented medicine for five years, thus securing a monopoly that excludes competitors and maintains high prices.

According to Javier Llamoza, of Health Action International Latin America (AISLAC), "protecting test data on medications is a way of creating a monopoly, which violates people's basic right to health." He said at least 12 applications for such protection have been made, by eight different companies, and two applications have already been approved.

Llamoza said that when generic versions of a drug become available on the market, prices typically fall by between 30 and 70 percent, while if a company has a monopoly on a drug, its price can increase up to 21-fold.

Recently, criticism has also been levelled at the FTA with China, in force since Mar. 1.

A study by economist Víctor Torres indicates that the sectors worst affected by this agreement, like the garment industry, leather production for footwear and the textile industry, have only been partially protected from China's low prices and allegedly unfair trade practices. As a result, lay-offs are likely to occur in these labour intensive sectors.

Micro and small businesses (MSEs) are the most likely to suffer from the FTA, as in the footwear industry, for example, where 98.5 percent of companies are MSEs.

The FTA with China lacks even a minimum framework for environmental standards and labour protection.

China introduced a broad definition of investors which includes companies from other foreign countries as long as they are controlled by Chinese capital. Under the FTA, however, Peru does not enjoy the same privilege.

In case of disputes, China cannot be sued in international courts without the case first going through an "internal administrative review process" in China. This safeguard is not applicable to Peru, however, which will therefore need to be on its guard, experts say.

The Militarization of the Peruvian Countryside

Mar 22 2010, Kristina Aiello

On December 30, Peruvian Defense Minister Rafael Rey stated that the acquisition of military equipment to be used in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) against the armed group the Shining Path would be the first priority in 2010 for Peru’s defense budget. Increased military spending is part of a governmental effort to strengthen the country’s domestic security forces, a process that includes plans to purchase new tanks from China and several war planes from Brazil, France, and the Netherlands. Peruvian President Alan Garcia also has budgeted resources to improve coordination between police and military forces during operations against insurgent targets, as well as the training of special operation forces dedicated to that task. Although Peru also receives substantial military support from the United States, any equipment received under that agreement is currently authorized to only combat drug trafficking.

Despite the re-emergence of guerrilla warfare in the VRAE, many rights groups fear that Peru’s increased counter-insurgency presence could have far-reaching consequences beyond the policing of armed groups like the Shining Path. Since taking office in 2006, Garcia has initiated an aggressive economic development strategy focused on opening up Peru’s natural resources to international extraction corporations, often in the face of large-scale protests and organized campaigns. The administration has responded with efforts designed to criminalize the opposition’s actions via newly enacted legislation, while simultaneously beefing up the country’s private security sector and authorizing the wider deployment of Peru’s military forces. The government has coupled these efforts with an aggressive propaganda campaign that links protestors to armed groups as a justification for increasing the national security presence in regions that are attractive to foreign investors.

Garcia’s efforts to construct a legal infrastructure to criminalize lawful protest began on April 28, 2007, when Congress passed Law 29009, delegating legislative authority to the executive branch to regulate organized criminal activity including drug trafficking, money laundering, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, and gang activity.

The delegation of legislative authority has been a favorite tool for Peru’s party in power. It allows the legislative branch to abdicate its role to the presidency in order to facilitate the passage of controversial or politically difficult legislation. Once the power to legislate in a particular area has been delegated, the executive branch can then unilaterally act by decree, allowing leaders in Lima to avoid having to defend a potentially unpopular policy during an exhaustive and public congressional debate. Former President Alberto Fujimori used this process to enact several legislative decrees to help the government combat “aggravated terrorism,” decrees that many human rights groups argued threatened civil liberties.

The Garcia administration has used its authority under Law 29009 to issue several legislative decrees that have severely curtailed the right to protest. The decrees were enacted after massive strikes rocked the country, cutting across several sectors of Peru’s economy.

Legislative Decree 982 expanded the legal definition of extortion to include actions broadly associated with public protest. These included the obstruction of roads and the disturbance of government functions for any particular reason, both of which became punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Public officials became guilty of extortion for participating in protests that led to the benefit of third parties. In addition, any police or military official acting under official orders whose actions resulted in lethal harm became immune from prosecution.

Other legislative decrees made it easier for the police to detain individuals accused of criminal activity. Legislative Decree 989 allowed an individual to be held in custody for 24 hours without a warrant, even if that individual was detained far from the alleged criminal act. Legislative Decree 988 stated that individuals detained with a warrant could be held incommunicado for up to ten days regardless of the crime. And finally, Legislative Decree 983 permitted preventative detention of up to 36 months for “complicated cases” while the criminal investigation proceeded.

The Garcia administration has also enacted new legal instruments to expand the government’s domestic use of the military. In 2008, the administration used its executive authority to issue Supreme Decree 012-2008-DE/CFFAA, which regulates Law 29166, a statute that governs the activities of Peru’s military forces. Prior to its enactment, the Department of Defense could only deploy the military after officially declaring a state of emergency. Now the government can deploy troops in support of the Peruvian National Police regardless of whether or not a state of emergency has been declared. The decree also expanded the circumstances under which the military could use deadly force to include the protection of public and private property.

The purpose behind this effort is clear: It justifies the deployment of the country’s security apparatus into resource-rich zones to serve as protection for corporate interests. Several officials of the Garcia administration have given interviews to the media in which they linked indigenous groups protesting the government’s development strategies to armed groups like the Shining Path. In a January television interview, Garcia referred to these indigenous protestors as members of a paramilitary group.

The communities of Ayabaca province in the northwestern coastal department of Piura provide a strong example of this paradigm. Community groups and environmental activists have engaged in a long struggle against the granting of mining concessions in the Ayabaca mountain range, home to a cloud forest that runs along the border between Ecuador and Peru, that serves as a vital source of water for the entire department. Since the struggle began in 2003, nearly 300 leaders of local communities and environmental activists have faced criminal prosecutions and have been linked by government officials and the press to terrorism or drug trafficking.

The Garcia administration appears intent on ratcheting up the pressure by using those criminal allegations against activists and community members as a pretext to establish a military base in the region, a prospect widely rejected by the surrounding communities. If successful, local activists fear that this would serve as a pilot project for similar activities based in other areas facing social conflict over resource extraction activities.

Rights groups have also warned about private security companies. Across Peru, extraction firms are privately contracting these forces, and part of the security they provide appears to be the conducting of espionage operations on groups opposing resource development projects. In the Cajamarca department, the Yanacocha gold mining project that is majority owned by the Newmont Mining Corporation headquartered in Denver, Colorado, the largest gold mining company in the world, hired two private security firms, Forza and Andrick Service, to provide security for their gold mining operations. Forza has been linked to the espionage operation known as “Operación el Diablo,” in which several activists opposing Yanacocha were video taped and photographed. Andrick Service has also been implicated in illegal wire-tapping operations. Both firms also have strong ties to Peru’s Navy and are suspected of having received intelligence from the Navy’s intelligence arm.

The Garcia administration is intent on continuing its extraction-based development strategy. Government officials recently urged Congress to approve a bill that would facilitate the removal of whole communities in resource-rich areas when a particular project was deemed fundamental to the public interest. The passage of this bill will have an impact on hundreds of communities across the country, which will organize themselves in opposition to the government’s plans to take their homes and harm their environment. The increase in social strife will likely be met by greater efforts to militarize Peru’s countryside.

Republished from NACLA, Kristina Aiello is a NACLA Research Associate.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Peru: Public Sector Workers Call Nation-wide Strike

Prensa CGTP / Mariátegui

A press conference called by the Confederation of State Employees (CTE) and the Confederation of Intersectoral State Employees of Peru (CITE), was held at the headquarters of the CGTP (General Confederation of Workers of Peru) today, where it was announced that a 48-hour stoppage will take place on 23 and 24 March.

Union leaders Winston Huaman (CITE - Administrative Sector of the University), Jorge Villagarcía (CTE - Education Sector) and Raul Montero (CITE - Municipal Workers Federation) said that among main demands of state workers are the implementation of the right to job security contained in Legislative Decree No. 276 and its regulations, under threat by Legislative Decrees 1025 and 1026; with respect to the civil service, the improvement of wages through collective bargaining and the establishment of a unified system of remuneration, the incorporation of contract workers into the unified permant system through the CAS regulations (Legislative decree 1057) and a full frontal fight against corruption.

They added that they will hold a massive mobilization marching from the Plaza 2 de Mayo to the office of the National Civil Service Authority (SERVIR) located in the Ministry of Labor.

The Secretary General of the CGTP Mario Huaman, said the union federation supports the strike by state sector workers and also rejects the attempt to fill the state apparatus with supporters of the ruling party. "APRA wants to fire workers with unconstitutional legislative decrees and replace them with APRA supporters" he said.

Translated by Kiraz Janicke for Peru en Movimiento, republished from Revista Mariategui.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Peru: Suspension of Mining Operation Merely a Placebo

By Milagros Salazar

LIMA, Mar 9, 2010 (IPS) - Although the Peruvian government reported that it had suspended the exploration activities of the Afrodita mining company in the country's northern Amazon jungle region to avoid further protests by local indigenous people, officials took no actual steps to bring the firm's work to a halt.

So what really happened?

After a meeting of the Council of Ministers, Prime Minister Javier Velásquez and Minister of Energy and Mines Pedro Sánchez announced on Feb. 17 that the Peruvian company's permits to drill in the rainforest had been suspended.

The two officials said OSINERGMIN, Peru's mine and energy regulatory agency, had stated that the decision would be in effect until the company provided evidence that it had authorisation to use the land where the exploration activities are being carried out.

"We have reached a decision on the Minera Afrodita business," Velásquez repeated in parliament two days later. "OSINERGMIN just suspended the company's activities. And it is not like the company says - that we have given in to blackmail (by local indigenous protesters); what happened was that the firm did not comply with what is established by law."

Leaders from 52 native communities complain that the company has polluted two rivers in Awajun indigenous territory with the mercury and cyanide used in mining operations.

Afrodita has been exploring for gold and silver in the Cordillera del Cóndor mountain range in the northern province of Amazonas, 15 km from the Ecuadorean border, despite protests by the local Awajún Indians.

Many local members of the Awajún ethnic group were also involved in a two-month roadblock and protests near the northern jungle town of Bagua - also in Amazonas - that ended in a tragic clash with police on Jun. 5, 2009 in which at least 10 native demonstrators and 23 police officers were killed.

The mining boom in Peru that has resulted from soaring minerals prices over the last few years, and the passage of laws aimed at opening up the jungle to the extractive industries, have led to numerous conflicts between mining companies and native communities protesting the environmental and social effects of the mining industry.

After the government reported the suspension of Afrodita's activities, OSINERGMIN inspection and oversight chief Guillermo Shinno told IPS that the company could continue its prospecting operations as soon as it obtained a permit showing it had surface rights to the land in question.

"We have to clarify that OSINERGMIN has not brought the company's exploration activities to a halt; it merely sent the firm an official letter indicating that it cannot engage in such activities without a land-use permit," he said.

In its Feb. 11 letter to the company, the regulatory agency cited a document in which the Ministry of Energy and Mines informed the company that the Superintendencia de Bienes Nacionales (Superintendence of National Assets) had not issued Afrodita a permit granting it surface rights or ownership to the land where it has already begun to operate.

In other words, OSINERGMIN's letter merely notified the mining company that it needed a permit. The firm has not yet presented its request for the permit to the Superintendencia, sources in the government office told IPS.

In a statement, Afrodita said it would "temporarily" bring its drilling operations to a halt while the administrative problems were worked out.

But OSINERGMIN said that "no appeal is necessary, because no administrative steps have been taken" to stop the company's activities.

Afrodita also said that during the halt in activities, it would focus on analysing geological reconnaissance data collected in the area where it is prospecting mainly for gold and silver.

Minera Afrodita is owned by Peruvian geologist Carlos Ballón, who is also a director of the Cardero Group, the umbrella company that includes Dorato Resources.

Through a series of option agreements, Dorato Resources Inc., a Canadian mineral exploration company set up to focus on the Cordillera del Cóndor - described by the firm's web site as "one of the most important gold-bearing districts in the region since pre-Incan times" - has the right to acquire 100 percent of Afrodita, which has held seven concessions in the area since 1995.

Dorato says the option would involve "an extensive land package of approximately 800 square kilometres."

But the Peruvian constitution bans foreigners from owning property within 50 km of the border.

Canada is the second-largest investor in Peru, after Spain. The biggest Canadian company operating in this South American country is Barrick Gold, the world's largest gold miner.

Mining is one of the engines of the economy in Peru, which according to "Top Mining Companies in Peru" put out by the Peru: Top Publications publishing company, is the world’s leading producer of silver and tellurium, and is second in zinc, third in copper, tin and bismuth, fourth in lead, molybdenum and arsenic, and sixth in gold and selenium.

In a communiqué, Dorato said "The Peruvian government is stating that although Minera Afrodita has legitimate, long-standing mining claims and a valid drill permit, it does not own the surface rights and therefore cannot proceed with the previously permitted and officially endorsed drill programme.

"The company believes, based on legal advice, that this reasoning has no legal basis, as Minera Afrodita has only carried out exploration work on state-owned land, where such work is expressly authorised under Peruvian Mining Law pursuant to which no additional authorisation is required.

"The exploration authorisation was granted to Minera Afrodita in December 2009, after having agreed with the local population, in a public assembly in the Santa Maria de Nieva town, the undertaking of exploration activities in the area," it adds.

But OSINERGMIN clarified that what Afrodita obtained on Dec. 9, 2009 was approval of the environmental impact study for the mining project, and that to begin exploration work it also had to prove that it had ownership or surface rights to the property in question, according to the country's environmental regulations.

And in the case of communally owned indigenous territory, a permit granted by two-thirds of the local community is needed.

"Approval of the environmental assessment study is not sufficient to begin exploration operations; other permits are also needed," Shinno told IPS. He pointed out, for example, that the company also needs to apply for a water use permit.

The technical report by the Ministry of Energy and Mines explaining that the environmental impact study was approved clearly states that a land-use permit is needed.

On page 13, the report says "it is the responsibility of the Afrodita SAC mining company to have, before the start of exploratory activities, surface rights to the land where said activities are to take place."

The report, seen by IPS, also says that approval of the environmental impact study "does not constitute the granting of authorisation, permits or other legal requisites that the mining project must have before it begins operations."

Under OSINERGMIN regulations, Afrodita could be subject to sanctions for beginning exploration work without the required permits.

The prime minister took advantage of the company's failure to comply with the regulations to try to nip in the bud indigenous protests that threatened to spread once again in the country's Amazon jungle region.

The suspension of Afrodita's activities was one of the 16 demands that indigenous organisations of northern and eastern Peru set forth in a Feb. 22 protest.

But the Awajun are demanding more than a mere suspension of operations. They are worried about pollution of rivers and destruction of flora and fauna by mining industry activity in the area.

Their worries are not unfounded. In 2009, OSINERGMIN initiated legal procedures to sanction Afrodita for mismanagement of solid waste. The company has appealed. But the regulatory agency declined to provide further details.

For the Awajun people, the hill in the Cordillera del Cóndor where Afrodita has cleared four hectares of jungle represents Kumpanan or "powerful hill", considered to be the father of lightning and the owner of air and water, according to the Lima newspaper La República.

The Awajun (also known as Aguaruna) are the biggest native ethnic group in Peru's Amazon region and have a reputation as fierce warriors.

Their leaders have denounced that Afrodita pays soldiers from military barracks in the area to guard the company's operations, rather than protecting the local population.

The Awajun also reported a year ago that the El Tambo military post was used as a base of operations by the company. At that time, the tension was at its peak, because local native anti-mine protesters had taken several mine workers hostage after they entered Awajun territory without permission from the local communities. The hostages were released unharmed after a few days.

For now, the government's announcement of a suspension of operations would appear to be merely a pain-killer or even a placebo, because the central problem remains unsolved: Afrodita will be able to continue operating as soon as it takes care of the pending bureaucratic steps. (END)

Republished from IPS

Indians Renew Protests in Peru

LIMA (February 22)– Amid heavy security measures, organizations representing Indians from the Peruvian Amazon region on Monday resumed their peaceful marches as part of a campaign to defend their rights, the first such action nationwide after the violent confrontations that left 34 people dead last June.

Those organizations, including the umbrella group Aidesep, reject the government report about last year’s incidents and are asking for the return of their leader Alberto Pizango, who fled to Nicaragua after being charged in connection with those events.

The protesters are also demanding that Peru respect an International Labor Organization pact that requires signatory governments to consult the indigenous peoples about decisions related to their ancestral rights to certain tracts of land.

Clashes that erupted last June in the Amazonian town of Bagua left 24 police and 10 Indians dead, although relatives of the victims and human rights groups said dozens of civilians were killed and their bodies were incinerated or dumped in rivers.

The protests ended after Peru’s Congress – acting on a request by President Alan Garcia – voted overwhelmingly on June 18 to repeal the two most contentious laws aimed at opening the Amazon region to development.

Some 4,000 elite police were deployed Monday in Bagua, where the protesters planned to hold a sit-in.

In Lima, about 500 Indians marched through Lima during the afternoon carrying posters and placards on which could be read slogans such as “Long live the Amazon struggle” and “Let’s save our planet.”

In Lima, “apu” (chief) Saul Puerta accused the government of provocation and carrying out “psychological pressure” in remarks to Efe, adding that many Indians did not participate in the marches out of fear that the army troops deployed to prevent the blocking of highways and strategic installations would crack down on them.

The protests of 2009 put on the table the great dichotomy that exists in Peru, where on the one hand the government is aiming to foster investment in the Amazon region, including with big petroleum and lumber interests, and on the other hand, the Indians are demanding that their property rights to the land in the area be respected.

After last year’s violence, Congress overturned two of the laws rejected by the jungle communities and the executive branch set up an investigative commission, following the recommendations of the U.N. special rapporteur for the indigenous peoples, James Anaya.

But when the commission’s report was released in mid-January, after four months of work, the Amazon communities refused to sign it saying that the document was a whitewash of the police role in the confrontation. EFE

Republished from Latin American Herald Tribune

Peruvian State Protects Mining Company Instead of Citizens: Interview with Mario Tabra Guerrero

By Yásser Gómez, Translation: Marcelo Virkel

Today, while those in power wage a campaign of media disinformation to prepare the scene for the 2011 presidential elections, peasant communities of Ayabaca, Piura continue to fight multinational mining corporations. With government support, these companies continue to explore for and exploit mineral deposits, ignoring residents’ concerns about the environment and the water supply. Upside Down World interviewed Mario Tabra Guerrero, one of the leaders in this fight, and president of the Frente de Defensa del Medio Ambiente de la Vida y el Agro de Ayabaca (Life Environment and Farm Defence Front of Ayabaca).

Since 2003, the Rio Blanco project, formerly called Majaz, a proposed open-pit copper and molybdenum mine, has generated opposition from resident campesino communities. Residents are concerned about potential impacts on water supplies and agricultural activities taking place within the watershed. As a result, the company has never obtained the two-thirds approval from local assemblies that it is required to have by law in order to operate in the area. In August of 2005, a campesino delegation marching to meet a mining commission for dialogue was ambushed by Peruvian national police and private mining security forces. For three days, 29 campesino representatives, including Mario Tabra, were held and subjected to physical, psychological and chemical torture. In 2007, a popular referendum reaffirmed community opposition to mining. The government refused to discuss the results, and, in recent years, nearly 300 local leaders have been politically persecuted for their participation in the referendum by threats and complicated legal processes.

- In the context of militarization of the territories and criminalization of protests in Ayabaca, in what state are your trial processes?

- They're still open, and I can't even leave Ayabaca without the judge's previous authorization. This is another way of keeping my activities under surveillance. As a person and as a citizen, I should be able to carry out these activities and move freely in my country. But this measure was taken to prevent me from realizing any kind of activity or coordination with anybody.

- Is it related to your participation in the resistance against the mining company Majaz in 2005?

- Yes, and they are still accusing me despite the lack of evidence that I took a gun from a DINOES (Special Operations National Office) police captain. They say I shot him, and I took the gun with me. But what happened was totally the opposite: I was detained and tortured for three days. Therefore, I didn't have the option of stealing guns or participating in any kind of confrontation. Besides, when the atomic absorption test was performed on us, no substance related to having fired a gun was found. They can't uphold the accusation, and there are also contradictions in the captain's version. He doesn't know what the subject he says he confronted looked like or what he was doing. In his first version, the captain stated that there had been a struggle and the gun had been accidentally shot. Afterwards, he said I had taken the gun from him. There are a lot of contradictions, enough to suspend this trial; however, they keep us controlled under these accusations.

- By claiming that they are after the author of the attack of the Río Blanco mining company's installations, they continue to persecute you...

- Due to the resistance of the peasant communities - which agreed in large assemblies not to accept mining- and what looks like a close deadline for Alan García to give away these territories to transnational corporations like Newmont and Sigiminim (so they can start their explorations for mine exploitation), a strong persecution that criminalizes all kind of resistance has started. Specifically on November 1st, 2009, there was a very strange attack at the Río Blanco camp. Initially, the peasant communities were accused of this attack in which, unfortunately, mine company workers died. These workers were just the villagers from Huancabamba that were working there, and the manager.

After this strange attack, those who were defending the environment were accused. First, the media was used to express that environmentalists, terrorists and drug traffickers' allies didn't want the mining presence and for that reason would perpetrate attacks of this kind. Then, since this hypothesis couldn't be proved, they began to send notifications: I got three notifications in one week. This is something very strange that hadn't happened in a trial process before. The notifications would arrive every two days, even though the most efficient administration would send notifications only every three days.

It wasn't possible to arrive on time in Huancabamba from Ayabaca because you need a day to climb down from Ayabaca to Piura, and another day to climb up to Huancabamba. Therefore, we couldn't go. They would notify us over the phone, but when we wanted to contact the person to ask for a prorogation that would allow us to appear in trial they would refuse to give us any contact information. They would say, “We know nothing; we just follow orders and notify you.” That was the problem.

After the second notification, on November 29, the Huancabamba attorney and the DININCRI (Criminal Investigation National Office) commander came to my house, and claimed they were investigating the November 1st attack. They told my family -since I was not at home- that they wanted me to expose what had happened on November 1st. The second notification stated: “bloody deed in Huancabamba;” this means that they were accusing me of murder. It wasn't that they wanted me as a witness; they directly got me involved in the case.

My daughter called me and told me that the attorney, the commander and four policemen were waiting in front of my house. They were watching both doors, waiting for me to get out. When I called my lawyers, they told me that given the circumstances I shouldn't turn up because surrounding the house meant something different from what they had stated. They even followed my daughter when she was looking for me in Ayabaca. This situation is growing: it's not only that they persecute me for being a leader but they also persecute my family, which is an aggravating factor.

I was in Ayabaca, but not at home. So they left a certificate to let me know that I had to appear in 2 days -i.e. on December 1st- but I hadn't been formally notified; there was only this certificate that was intended to confirm whether I was home. I only got the formal notification on Monday 30th, at about 10 AM. It stated that I had to appear on Tuesday at 6:00 PM in Huancabamba. I left for Huancabamba that afternoon, I slept in Piura, and climbed up to Huancabamba in the afternoon. My surprise was that the attorney was not on time to take my statement. He was more than a hour late, and told me “you didn't need to be here. You could have presented your statement at your leisure, because you are just a witness.”

A witness shouldn't be pressured to present a statement; being a witness is a voluntary action, so they shouldn't have sent the policemen and the attorneys to my house to put pressure on me to present my statement. Then, they asked me why I had told the media that they sent the policemen and the attorneys. They were caught a bit off guard because the media started to denounce this new act of persecution, so my lawyer and I presented the statement and they let us go in the middle of nowhere at around 9:00 PM. Because the place where the DININCRI had been installed in Huancabamba is not within the city, it's in a health centre located in a village out of town; and this can lend itself to various things, like the disappearances that the Peruvian state has perpetrated in many places in the country.

From then on, we don't know the results. They had told us they had 20 days to finalize the investigation -that was secret, without reports of who stated what-, but more than a month has passed by and they haven't prepared a report or a file with the charges to accuse us. We don't know anything about the state of the process. I thank the supportive media, especially the independent media that managed to denounce what's happening and slightly deter the arbitrary detentions.

- Is the Peruvian state acting as the transnational corporations' private army?

- That is the intention, shown by what the last supreme decrees have granted to Newmont company and other corporations: the government gave them 18.000 hectares of moor and cloud forest. The Aprista [party of President Alan García’s] government has practically given up all the Ayabaca mountain range, border between Ecuador and Peru. First, it was Alejandro Toledo's government with the decrees 022 and 023 (2003); and now Alan Garcia's decree 072 (2009) gave away the sections of the range that remained. This is a serious attack against the environment, in the province where the water spouts out from the plains and goes down the mountains towards Piura. If these mining projects are developed in the highlands, Piura and the provinces north of Cajamarca -like San Ignacio and Jaén- won't have water anymore.

- There was also a version, very much publicized by the mainstream media, in which the drug traffickers were blamed for the attack at the Río Blanco mining company.

- Sure. They always try to mix both issues in order to justify what was demanded by the corporate media: a militarization of the region to bring peace. In other words, if they are not terrorists, they are traffickers or there is a perverse alliance between the drug traffickers and the terrorists to stop investments. But see how they promote confusion; it's a psychosocial campaign to get people to accept the militarization of Ayabaca. It's true this is a border zone, but the militarization goal won't be to protect our border from external enemies but to protect transnational corporations and their actions that destroy the environment. Due to the fact that this accusation didn't work out, I believe they are trying to find another strategy to establish the army; because now they want not only the DINOES, that is currently guarding the mining company, but also the army. In other words, they became the mining companies' guardians.

- Is that why they threatened to install of a military base in Ayabaca?

- Exactly. The government started to throw out the idea, aiming at us. It's a trial to see what the towns people would say about the possibility of this installation. It'd be an early test of militarization in Ayabaca, so they can later militarize other zones when resistance against transnational corporations arises. The trial to see if it is possible to militarize and silence Ayabaca has to do with the fact that this is one of the most resistant communities against mining in Peru. If they can get their way here, they can do it in other places. That's the idea.

Yasser Gomez is a journalist, Upside Down World correspondent in Peru and editor of Mariátegui. La revista de las ideas. [The Magazine of Ideas]. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Marcelo Virkel is a political scientist and translates documents form English to Spanish and vice versa. He specializes in current world affairs and human rights, and has completed translations of policy documents, organizational procedures, informative reports, news articles and websites. Marcelo collaborates with Upside Down World and with Peace Brigades International, a grassroots NGO that promotes nonviolence and protects human rights defenders through accompaniment and advocacy. E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Republished from Upside Down World