Protests that leave three dead in Tacna prompt Premier Simon to call off talks until “people calm down”

Two days after declaring a 30-day state of emergency in the southern border province of Tacna, Premier Yehude Simon said he would not discuss protesters’ demands to modify a recently voted mining law until tempers were cooled.

“We will travel (to Tacna) only once the population calms down,” said Simon. “Only when they show that there will be no more violence and that dialogue will be open and sincere, without any type of pressure. Anything short of that would mean giving in to people who do not represent the majority… No commission will travel to Tacna until people calm down.” That would be a sign “of weakness,” said Simon.

However, a high-level government commission is scheduled to arrive in Tacna this week for talks with regional leaders, to pave the way for later talks with the Premier. The commission is said to include Max Hernandez, Peru’s leading pscyhoanalyst and an active participant in negotiations in situations of social conflict.

Protests continued in Tacna, which has been locked in a long-term dispute with neighboring department of Moquegua over how to divide mining taxes paid by Arizona-based Southern Copper.

The region has been the hub of violent unrest and road blockades since October 30.

Thousands took to the streets last Thursday, blocking strips of the Pan-American highway and torching the governor’s office, after local media reported that Congress approved a bill that would reduce Tacna’s share of mining royalties to benefit Moquegua.

The bill, which Moquegua has been demanding for some time, was approved 51 to 2, with 18 abstentions, in a first-round vote in Congress. Though it could be amended in the pending second-round vote, it proposes that taxes, or mining royalities, be determined based on the value of the extracted minerals. The current system fixes taxes based according to the quantity of earth moved.

Ahead of escalating violence, the government authorized the military to step in last weekend. Then, on Tuesday, the government stepped it up a notch by declaring a state of emergency after protestors torched a municipal building and approximately 40 civilians and 27 police were injured during violent clashes. Three people, including a five month-old baby asphyxiated by tear gas, have died.

The 30-day state of emergency suspends rights such as public meetings and free transit in the four provinces affected by the declaration: Tacna, Jorge Basadre, Candarave and Tarata. The decree also gives military personnel authority to inspect homes and private property without a warrant.

“There are guilty parties here, and they aren’t the police, but people prompting others on the prowl for personal benefit,” said Simon.

“I’m not seeing any ghosts, we have been monitoring (the situation in Tacna) and we have intelligence,” added Simon. “Even Tacna residents are afraid.”

Those responsible for destroying public and private property and attacking police are the ones who “should be afraid,” said Minister of Interior, Remigio Hernani. We have names, intelligence and video footage of the delinquents, Hernani added, “but now is not the time to ask for an explanation, there will be other opportunities.”

“(Our duty) is to protect,” he added. “There are 1,850 police in Tacna and the military has the situation under control.”

According to Peru Ombudswoman Beatriz Merino, unrest has been building up and solutions were slow and poorly executed.

“Someone in the government made a mistake more than a year ago and what we are seeing today is the result of this (decision),” said Merino, who made public a report on the 189 ongoing social conflicts in Peru. “I have spoken openly and frankly with the premier.”

“We could see this conflict coming more than a year and a half ago,” added Merino. “Congressmen from all parties pointed to it, as well as governors, mayors, and the regional president. This is not spontaneous. It is the result of a bad decision made more than a year ago about a law. It was more than obvious that (this law) would cause this social unrest.”

Last October, said Merino, there were 80 social conflicts. A year later, there are 189, more than 100 per cent increase. Since January, social conflicts are on the rise, with an average of 15 new conflits each month.

Much of the social unrest, as in Tacna and Moquegua, arises in mining areas where communities believe they should be getting a larger slice of the pie. Though most conflicts have been reported in Peru’s southern highlands – where approximately 73 percent of indigenous Quechua and Aymara communities live below the poverty line – they could shift to the country’s Amazon region, where an increasing number of oil concessions are being granted.

“As Peruvian miners strike for a greater share of windfall metals income, and local governments demand more in mining taxes, conflicts surrounding extractive industries could shift from the mountains to the jungles,” reported Mines and Communities.

Sharing is caring!

Comments are closed.