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News > Latin America

Peru Suspends Constitutional Rights in Troubled Mining Areas

  • A protest against one of Peru's most controversial mining projects, Minas Congas, by Newmont Mining.

    A protest against one of Peru's most controversial mining projects, Minas Congas, by Newmont Mining. | Photo: EFE/Archive

Published 11 January 2018

According to a 2014 Global Witness report, Peru is the fourth-most dangerous country in which to be a land-rights or environmental defender.

Peru's government has declared a state of emergency, suspending de facto basic constitutional rights in order to officially “guarantee public order" and address social conflicts prompted by mining exploitation, with the support of the armed forces.

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The measures were implemented by the Council of Ministers on Thursday following a request by the national police. "Peru's National Police will maintain public order with the support of the Armed Forces," reads the official statement.

The territory affected by the new measures includes 482,2 kilometers of roads in the southern regions of Apurimac, Cuzco and Arequipa, officials declared. 

In reality, however, the perimeter corresponds to the territories affected by mining exploitation, according to the NGO Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros en el Perú.

"What is supposed to be a state of emergency in these provinces has been converted (since last August) into the habit of curtailing fundamental rights of the local populations," warned spokesman Jose de Echave, noting that the move was "unexplainable" because protests have been going on for months in these territories.

In Peru, the state of emergency suspends all constitutional rights related to individual freedom and security, including the freedom to meet and circulate, as well as the inviolability of the home.

Latin America is the most dangerous place in the world for environmental activists. In Peru alone, 61 activists were killed in the past 10 years, according to human rights organization Global Witness.

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One year ago, the country's ombudsman found in a report that indigenous and campesino communities were currently engaged in fighting 156 mining giants, which they claim are threatening their natural resources and land.

In total, 102 protests with a "social-environmental" focus were recorded across the country then, but only 81 projects are currently being negotiated.

Mining projects are contested because they are seen as threatening natural resources and the future health and survival of rural communities living close by.

The mining industry remains one of the primary sources of foreign trade in Peru, although investment in the sector has fallen with the drop in international commodity prices. Peru is the second-largest exporter of copper in the world, with 70 percent of exports in raw form and 30 percent as purified metal.

But environmental contamination caused by extractive industries continues to be the main cause of social conflict in the country, sometimes exploding into all-out violence. During the government of departing President Ollanta Humala, which started in 2011, 50 people died and 750 were injured in clashes between environmental demonstrators and government authorities.

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