Protests at Casapalca mine leave five dead, including policeman struck down by rock

Road blockades and violent protests in the mining town of Casapalca — located in the Lima hills, more than 3,800 meters above sea level — have left five people dead, including a police officer who was crushed by a large rock, said Interior Minister Remigio Hernani Meloni.

Police Captain Giuliano Carlo Villarreal Lobatón, 31, was killed early Monday morning when a rock, weighing approximately 50 kilos, fell on his head, Hernani told Radio Programas Radio.

This area is very dangerous, added Hernani, “it’s like a labyrinth, where a stone can easily be thrown (from above) and cause a landslide of unpredictable consequences, affecting passengers and police because they don’t know where to seek cover.”

Approximately 20 police officers were injured, reported Peru Police Chief, Octavio Salazar.

In 2007, Officer Carlos Alberto Mariluz Dulanto also died after a huge rock fell on his head during another strike by the Casapalca miners.

Discontented mine workers initiated the road blockades and strike early Monday, to protest poor working conditions and the sacking of 300 fellow miners last May.

Workers in Casapalca often work 12-hour days for less than 350 soles, or $116 per month, according to union workers.

“We can’t agree with the exploitation of man by man,” said Rafael Cabezas, secretary general of the Casapalca mining union.

A shower of stones was thrown when police tried to clear the road blockades spread out along three kilometers, just under two miles, leaving hundreds of vehicles blocked.

“The highway was cleared at 6:50 am,” said Hernani. “And personnel (called in) from Lima and Huancayo (have already) taken preventative measures.”

Five people, including Villarreal, were killed during the protests. Two men died after suffering multiple gun-shot wounds, another died from a heart attack because his ambulance was left stranded on the highway, and a minor died asphyxiated by tear gas thrown by police.

Mining in the Casapalca district dates back to the early Spanish colonial period. The Backus and Johnston Company began systematic exploration and development of the area in the late 1800’s, and were subsequently bought out by the Cerro de Pasco Corporation in 1921.

Later, in 1974, Centromin Peru gained ownership. In the purchase agreement of 1997, the Casapalca mining district was split into two mining areas, the Yauliyacu Mine and on the eastern side the Casapalca Mine, although both mines are connected underground. The Casapalca mine contains silver, zinc, lead and copper deposits.

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