Peru’s biggest business group praised the judiciary for arresting the anti-mining regional president of Cajamarca, who is accused of corruption allegations.
The president of Confiep, Alfonso Garcia-Miro, said that Cajamarca Regional president Gregorio Santos should be held to account for causing poverty in Peru’s poorest department.
“He hasn’t just committed a crime, I think that there is also a moral crime because he has put people in extreme poverty,” Garcia Miro said in comments reported by daily El Comercio.
Santos was detained June 25 and charged with allegedly committing the crimes of unlawful association, bribery and collusion.
Justice Mercedes Caballero ordered that Santos be detained for 14 months, pending his trial. Caballero said that the charges presented by the state attorney were “grave and well-founded” and thus Santos posed a flight risk.
Former premier Salomon Lerner Ghitis, who was premier of President Humala’s first cabinet when Santos began to lead protests in Cajamarca in 2011,
Santos and his allies have denied any wrongdoing and have said that the allegations are politically motivated.
Santos grabbed national attention in 2011 as the leader of protests against the massive Minas Conga copper and gold project, owned by U.S.-based Newmont Mining and Peru’s Compañia de Minas Buenaventura.
The violent protests resulted in a number of deaths, as well as an almost year-long political crisis for President Ollanta Humala, who assumed office only a few months before the start of the demonstrations.
Among the political consequences of the drawn-out but unsuccessful negotiations with the protesters, was a major cabinet shift in which President Humala ousted his premier, Salomon Lerner Ghitis, and the Environment minister and other officials.
Although Lerner Ghitis recognizes that the state attorneys may have solid grounds for the preventive arrest, he is concerned with the possible political price of that decision, just as the country builds up to regional elections towards the end of the year.
“There are opposers who are happy [with this decision] but it could also be a boomerang to put someone in jail who is a proven leader in Cajamarca,” said Lerner Ghitis. “They could be turn him into a victim.” Lerner Ghitis was ousted as President Humala’s first cabinet chief when the business community and opposition criticized the drawn-out talks with Santos and Cajamarca leaders.
The development of the $5.0 billion project was postponed as a result of the protests, leading to concerns that social conflicts could derail other large mining projects.
The conflict over Minas Conga hurt Cajamarca’s mining-heavy economy as many local companies that service the mine lost business, while areas like tourism also suffered due to uncertainty about the region’s political situation.
The national statistics institute INEI said that Cajamarca had the highest rate of poverty last year, with more than 50% of the population living under the poverty line.