Posted by: Ali | April 6, 2010

Mining Strike

On occasion, I force my readers to become educated, especially when there’s something going on in the news.  I think day-to-day news is boring anywhere, but you should read the Peruvian news sometimes. (“More than 1000 people visited Machu Picchu today”; “Susan Sarandon visited Puno”; “Vegetables from Peru captivate European entrepreneurs“)

These days, however, there is a big political dispute going on in the news about mining, which has actually caused a few deaths so far, and I imagine it is not going to blow over anytime soon.  This is the first I heard of it:

Facing the possibility of an indefinite strike that may mobilize thousands of informal miners nationwide, the government declared the state of emergency in seven southern Provinces: Nazca, Palpa and San Juan de Marcona in Ica region, Tambopata and Manu in Madre de Dios region, and Caravelí and Camaná in Arequipa region.

The Supreme Decree 042-2010-PCM indicates that this measure will be effective for 60 days, during which the internal control will be in charge of the Police, with the support of the Armed Forces.

Teódulo Medina Gutiérrez, leader of the Federation of Informal Miners, told the press that they want the government to repeal the emergency decree 012-2010, regarding the reorganization of the informal mining activities in Madre de Dios region, a decree that they consider as “inconstitutional.”

They also want the Environment Minister, Antonio Brack, to be removed from office.

It sounded very interesting, but I had no idea what some of it was referring to.  The reorganization of informal mining activities?  That sounds a lot like a topic I wrote about a while ago.  And why would they want the Environmental Minister to be fired?

I did a little bit of research and I discovered that basically there is a dispute going on between informal miners and the environment.  Informal miners are people who have access to a mine which has either been closed down or never recognized by the government.  Either way, there is no one with extraction rights to the mine, so as far as the government knows, the mine is not being excavated.  This causes both social and environmental problems.  Environmentally, there are no regulations so the miners can use whatever dirty methods are the cheapest and easiest for them – in this case, using mercury.  Socially, the work can be very dangerous and there is no job security or nor WHMIS.

Here is an article I found on another blog that sums up the dispute:

Six people were killed during a protest by Peruvian miners against stricter regulations on the mining industry by the Alan Garcia administration. The protest occurred near the town of Chala on Sunday. Protesters wielded clubs and rocks against the police who were armed with rifles.  Police clashed with the protesters when the police tried to clear away the protesters who had set up a roadblock on the Pan-American Highway from Peru to Chile. According to reports, twenty protesters were injured and nine police.

Peru is a leader in the export of zinc, copper and gold. Peru is also a major importer of mercury. This mercury ends up being used by the wildcat miners who use it to isolate gold from mud and rock. These miners produce ten to twenty percent of all gold mined in Peru, which is the top 6 producer of gold in the world.

The Garcia administration seeks to force the miners to pay taxes. In addition, they seek to impose tougher environmental laws on wildcat mining. According to environmentalists, the mining technique results in toxic waste, including mercury, being dumped into the forests and streams. The Garcia regime seeks to resolve the contradiction between the environment and the miners by sacrificing the latter.

The president is trying to crack down on these illegal miners and force them to basically report their earnings and pay income taxes, as well as obeying environmental regulations.  But these people are just so poor that they are literally unable to obey the environmental standards, so if this crack-down is successful thousands of people will be out of a job.  The miners are protesting, the police is stepping in, and there are a lot of people stuck in the middle.  The article above said that 6 people have died so far – one of them was an old woman sitting on a bus who suffered from a heart attack and couldn’t get to a hospital soon enough because there was a road blockade.

So, just a few details from the city under curfew… It took time before I understood the obvious- Puerto Maldonado is under curfew! Some shops might open. Even the market would open tomorrow from 0400 to 0900, but nothing enters Puerto. Soon there would be no food to sell cheap. Soon there would be no money to buy expensive (80 % of the economy in town is based upon gold mines’ money… this number is now as confirmed, as anything can ever be in Peru) and soon after that there would neither be food nor money. And the miners have no intension to give up.

Streets are empty. Groups of miners are parading around town all day long (hot hot hot). Stopping, giving speeches, and going on. The Hostel ended up being in a very strategic spot, where they stop and give speeches in the sun (not too far from the river port, which is blocked by the police) while waiting for the water to arrive; a great spot to speak to the exhausted protesters.

Some groups are peaceful and some are not. They are accompanies by a few policemen, which, in case the temper gets hotter, has no way of stopping them apart from shooting them dead, and it seems like that is what they are intending to do. The massive police force that is supposed to be in town is not visible. A few big groups (the one I have seen was about 250 people) manage to run around town with neither police permission nor police escort, but with bats, and create a lot of discomfort and unease (so far not much more than that… some burnt tires).


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