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The Criminalization of Anti-Mining Social Protest in Peru

By Dr. Fiorella Triscritti.

Dr. Triscritti is post-doctoral research scholar at the Center for International Conflict Resolution (CICR) at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

In Africa, Asia and Latin America, the development of the mining industry has often been accompanied by violence and community-led social protest. In the presence of fragmented societies and fragile governance structure, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Papua New Guinea and Sierra Leone, mining has fuelled conflicts and civil wars. But even in contexts where democratic institutions are consolidating, such as Indonesia, Peru and South Africa, mining has been a latent attractor for social protest over community rights, fiscal policies and labor and environmental standards.

To halt these protests, young democratic institutions have, in various cases, turned to authoritarian dogmas. Civil rights and freedoms, normally guaranteed under the constitution, have been suspended in attempts to reinstate order, and security forces have responded to violence with violence, implementing counterterrorism practices.

What is happening in Peru illustrates this argument.

Peru is rich in mineral resources. In 2010, Peru, a country the size of South Africa, was the world鈥檚 largest producer of silver, second-largest for copper and zinc, third-largest for tin, fourth-largest for lead and molybdenum and sixth-largest for gold.

Source: Mapa de Unidades Mineras en Producci贸n y Proyectos de Exploraci贸n – Mayo 2012

Peru is also a young consolidating democracy, where social tensions over the management of natural resources have repeatedly plunged the country into political and social chaos. Such tensions, originate from the absence of dialogue among stakeholders. When the central government licenses a mining corporation to explore and exploit mining concessions, in remote areas, regional authorities and local communities have limited rights to negotiate their interests and preserve their livelihoods. As local communities struggle to make their voices heard, they often resort to violence in order to express their discontent. Since January 2006, the number of conflicts per month has tripled; in that same time, over 2,400 have been injured and over 200 have been killed in clashes.

To halt the civil unrest related to large-scale mining, the Peruvian government has increasingly resorted to declaring states of emergency. When a state of emergency is declared, local police are granted special powers in conflict areas and the presence of riot police and the army is increased. Simultaneously, civil liberties are restricted and freedom of assembly is suspended, and anti-mining leaders and local authorities are swiftly arrested, without notice or warrant, under accusations of having violating such restrictions (though they are usually later released).

The following two examples illustrate these practices. In both cases, a state of emergency was declared immediately after protests resulted in casualties, while dialogue among stakeholders was still ongoing.

  • In July 2012, after weeks of confrontation between local communities and Newmont Mining Corporation, a US-based company, a 30-day state of emergency was declared in several provinces of northern Peru. On a day during the state of emergency, Marco Arana, a 49-year-old former priest and veteran of anti-mining protests, was seated in the main square of the city of Cajamarca, wearing a placard around his neck with the words 鈥渧ida si, oro no鈥 (鈥測es to life, no to gold鈥). Without provocation and apparently without warning, several riot police converged on Arana and beat him, then took him into custody, where, he claimed, he was beaten again. Arana was released within 24 hours

Here is a video of his arrest is on YouTube:聽

  • Another case occurred in May 2012 in the town of Espinar, located near Cusco, in southern Peru. After several weeks of protests against the extractive activities of Swiss-based Xtrata had turned violent, the government invoked a 30-day state of emergency. Three days later, riot police stormed the municipal building to arrest the Mayor of Espinar, Oscar Mollohuanca, as he was convening a community meeting on the issue. Mollohuanca was sentenced to 鈥減reventive custody鈥 for five months by the provincial prosecutor, but was released after ten days.

The Peruvian Government, when accused of using force instead of dialogue to resolve anti-mining conflicts, has argued that it uses force because protesters are 鈥渧iolent radicals, extremists or terrorists鈥 and because dialogue is not viable. While in some cases this may be accurate, it should not account for the use of real bullets against protesters, random acts of violence or convenient arrests of grass-roots leaders. Moreover, in situations of similar social tension, but unrelated to large-scale mining, such as clashes occurred between fishermen in Paita (northern Peru) and the police, in April 2012, the Peruvian Government has been able to successfully mediate solutions and to manage conflict with less violence. Grass-roots movements argue that this is not a simple coincidence, but a deliberate intention of the central government to criminalize anti-mining social protests.

Conflict resolution experts and mediators agree that dialogue and respect among stakeholders are necessary conditions for halting conflict. As a result, the use of states of emergency and the criminalization of protests significantly decrease the chances of reaching durable and peaceful agreements.聽 They engender a sense of mistrust among stakeholders and fuel conflicts, with governments viewing protesters as criminals and with protesters accusing governments of backing the interests of mining corporations. The unintended consequences of these practices are often the failure to reach a sustainable common ground and the escalation of violence in conflict areas.

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11 years ago

In response to your article, there are a few points that were left out:

Where is the truth about the political parties that are instigating many of these riots to further their own agenda?

Where is the truth about all the money the mining companies have paid to the communities, yet these ” community leaders” have not and probably cannot pay the people; either due to their negligence and/or their lack of structure and/or their greed?

Where is the truth about all the jobs being provided, the schools being built, roads, clinics, etc., by the companies?

Where is the truth that most of the pollution is not coming from the mining companies, but actually from the local miners who do not know what they are doing? This has been documented!

What about all the clean water reservoirs being built?
Oh, and what about the international environmental reviews that have said ,esp., the Conga development meets international standards?

What about the drug lords that have been entering the communities. It is not to their benefit to have large companies on their doorsteps.

Not all the protestors are from the communities. There are a growing number of outside influences with their own agenda

It is so frustrating to read this when you do not report all the facts. I would further say that by perpetuating these false reportings, that you are a huge part of the problem.

Claudio Bandiera
Claudio Bandiera
11 years ago


I totally agree that social dialog is important to find a sustainable political solution to this kind of conflicts. There are other good examples like the one applied in the so called Quellaveco Model in Peru.

I really appreciate your contribution. Promoting this kind of debate help us to improve our views. Certainlly, your article is part of the solution!

10 years ago

It does give you a feeling of deception when someone, who has a higher education degree and further a doctoral degree, gives an opinion about an issue with total disregard to the facts and lack of objectivity that is expected from a political pundit but certainly not from a serious doctoral professional.

One needs only to read the title of her article to understand that she is not interested in seriously commenting and/or exposing whatever tensions are being generated by the mining activity in Peru but instead wants to shape events to fit and support her catchy title and look good to a sector of the bleachers that likes to call themselves progressive.

No Dr. Triscritti; “Social Protest”, anti-mining or for any other reason, is not a criminal offense in Peru and as a matter of fact it is a right guaranteed by the constitution and regulated by law.

What is a criminal offense in Peru is rioting and blockades that force schools and businesses to close doors in fear with absolute disregard to students and regular citizen rights; blockades that do not allow food to reach the markets and allow it to rot in trucks endangering the economic welfare of merchants and the well being of regular citizens who are not in agreement with the protests; blockades that put the health of patients in jeopardy and certainly the criminal offenses committed by the so called “enforcers” that go around menacing and attacking people and businesses if they do not join the blockade.

The insinuation that such flagrant illegal practices are justified because they are for a good cause is not only antidemocratic but indeed far from progressive.

Your insinuation that a clear attempt to govern by “Ochlocracy” disguised as popular protest is a valid democratic and progressive practice with total disregard to the right of those who are not in agreement is shameful; particularly for a scholar.

Mining has pros and cons and it might very well be that it has far more cons than pros and further that citizens in Peru are right at opposing mining activity.

Peru though is a constitutional republican democracy and not a “popular democracy”, which you seem to be fond about and that has been and continues to be the system of choice of every dictatorship and totalitarian government in the world.

The Peruvian constitution grants “individual freedoms” to it’s people. Individual freedoms that have boundaries set by the right of other people to the same freedoms. You are not allowed therefore to step over other people freedoms even if your cause is just and popular. Doing so in illegal and hence constitutes criminal behavior.

The Machiavellian insinuation that people have the right to abuse the rights of others under the excuse that their cause is righteous and/or for the good of everyone as well as the intellectually self serving comment that the Peruvian government should consent to it and ignore those whose individual rights and freedoms are being abused is cheap, to say the least.

Yes, the government should pursue dialogue instead of confrontation and yes, people have the right to express their dissent but no one has the right to abuse the rights of others and the government has the obligation to protect, however it deems necessary, those who are victims of abuse and criminal behavior.

Peru is not a model democracy and there is much work to be done in order accomplish the dream of a fair and free society for all but it certainly is not worse than so called developed democracies tainted by corporatism and run away corruption.

We are a work in progress and have many limitations but we certainly do not need comments and/or advice from ideological mercenaries disguised as independent scholars.

3 years ago

Peaceful protests are the greatest weapon of destruction devised by man itself. Protests must be with good intentions and not just a rebellion or resistance to the government.
Check this out

Why Do People Protest

hope this will help. Thank you.