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A reported blog on happenings around Latin America.

Can Peru avoid the protest bug?

Recent violence suggests social unrest is unlikely to disappear anytime soon in the mineral-rich nation.
Peru protests juliaca 2011 06 28Enlarge
Demonstrators seize and burn the grass field around the airstrip at the the airport of Juliaca, southern Peru, on June 25, 2010. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Five killed over the weekend, almost $100 million lost to strikes and a weeklong stock market slide.

For Peru, that's only a partial tally of the cost of weeks of protests over a proposed silver mine.

The mining project, by Canadian firm Bear Creek, has now been cancelled. The Peruvian government revoked the company's license to build a mine near the shores of Lake Titicaca and halted all new mining concessions in the Puno province for the next 36 months.

(See photos: Protests shut down Peru-Bolivia border)

But while the agreement might put an end to the most recent violence, it hardly seems like a lasting solution to the social protests besetting the Andean nation.

Demonstrators march against violence in Juliaca, southern Peru, on June 25, 2010
Demonstrators march against violence in Juliaca, southern Peru, on June 25, 2010.

The country has been growing at more than 7 percent a year, the highest rate in Latin America. Much of that growth has been fueled by an increase in foreign investment, with current President Alan Garcia encouraging mining and oil extraction.

Peru is pound for pound one of the world's richest countries in terms of resources, with vast reserves of gold, silver, tin, iron, zinc and copper.

Yet projects to mine those resources are often unpopular among local residents, who see few direct economic benefits. Nearly 100 protesters have been killed in the past three years in clashes with police, reports Time. The government's human rights ombudsman's office catalogued 227 local protest movements in May. Economist Hernando de Soto told Time that his instititute estimates there are about 1,000 simmering social conflicts in Peru.

The unrest over the silver mine near Lake Titicaca began in early May. Protesters blocked the border crossing with Bolivia and then set fire to several government buildings. The demonstrations spread throughout the region and came to a head this weekend when 4,000 protesters marched on the Juliaca airport.

Demonstrators seize and burn the grass field around the airport of Juliaca.
Demonstrators seize and burn the grass field around the airstrip at the the airport of Juliaca.

Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest lake in South America. The lake was considered sacred by the Incas and is a major tourist draw today. The protesters said mining would pollute Lake Titicaca, the Desaguadero River and its tributaries.

(See photos: Lake Titicaca draws tourists)

President-elect Ollanta Humala campaigned on the promise to better distribute the country's wealth. He said this week that rural towns bear the costs of the mines, which can cause pollution and monopolize scarce water supplies.

Humala's talk about a tax on windfall profits has unnerved some mining companies, who said it would encourage them to build mines elsewhere. (The Canadian firm Bear Creek is threatening legal action against Peru for revoking its mining rights.)

Yet the government and mining and oil/gas companies estimate there will be more than $50 billion in investment in new projects in the next decade, reports Time. 

For Humala, who takes office on July 28, that means plenty of more potential conflicts like the one that just ended in Puno.

Demonstrators stand by burnt down cars in Juliaca, southern Peru, on June 25, 20
Demonstrators stand by burnt down cars in Juliaca, southern Peru, on June 25, 2010.

Demonstrators block a road in Juliaca, southern Peru, on June 25, 2010.
Demonstrators block a road in Juliaca, southern Peru, on June 25, 2010.

Demonstrators carry the coffin of one of their fellow protesters killed in clash
Demonstrators carry the coffin of one of their fellow protesters killed in clashes with police in Juliaca.

(Photos from STR/AFP/Getty Images)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/que-pasa/peru-protests-airport-juliaca