Communities impacted by mining and oil extraction lead wave of protests in Peru

Communities impacted by mining and oil extraction lead wave of protests in Peru
People hold protest signs during meeting between protesters and Antamina CEO. 5 November 2021, REUTERS/Alessandro Cinque.

The first months of Pedro Castillo’s presidency were marked by governability challenges, with the government often at odds with an opposition-led Congress. Within just a few days of Castillo’s term, right-wing groups protested his Cabinet nominations – in particular the appointment of Guido Bellido as Prime Minister, a politician who they accused of supporting rebel group Shining Path. By early October 2021, Castillo announced a Cabinet reshuffle, following pressure from the opposition and news reports of low approval ratings.

New Cabinet picks, seen as more moderate, were approved in Congress amid resistance from Castillo’s own party Peru Libre. Even with these changes, at the end of November opposition legislators presented a motion to remove Castillo for “moral incapacitation” to govern. This same controversial constitutional clause was used to remove former president Martín Vizcarra in 2020. The current government has made efforts to modify the Constitution to clarify that the article would apply only in cases where a sitting president is mentally or physically incapable of exercising their role, as certified by a medical board.

In this period, Peru also saw a wave of protests in communities impacted by mining, as well as sustained demonstrations by Indigenous peoples. These developments are further detailed in the update below.


Harassment of Awajún environmental defenders

On 10th August 2021, the national police detained Indigenous defenders Augostina Mayán and Isaías Mayán and held them for 24 hours. Augostina Mayán is the former president of the Organisation for the Development of the Cenepa Border Communities (ODECOFROC) and Isaías Mayán is the vice president of the Awajún Indigenous Federation of Alto Comainas and Sawientsa (FIACSA). The two Awajún leaders from El Cenepa, Condorcanqui, have denounced illegal mining in Indigenous territories of the Peruvian Amazon.

Both environmental defenders were facing a criminal complaint for the alleged kidnapping of three people in 2016. According to Servindi, they were detained for failing to attend hearings related to this case – but they had not received notification of these hearings. On 7th October 2021, the Condorcanqui Criminal Prosecutor’s Office withdrew the charges against the defenders for lack of evidence. The investigation was archived.

Augostina Mayán has also received death threats, in particular after she participated in an effort to evict illegal miners from the Nuevo Kanam community in January 2021. Mayán said local residents involved in mining went to her parents’ house to threaten her, causing her father to faint from high blood pressure. In March 2021, a community radio station run by ODECOFROC was also attacked.

Peaceful Assembly

Wave of protests over mining

Between September and November 2021, there was a wave of protests related to mining in Peru. The demonstrations were motivated by multiple issues such as environmental damages caused by mining; lack of free, prior and informed consultation on mining projects; loss of livelihoods and health impacts that have characterised the southern Peruvian mining corridor. Local communities mobilised and organised road blockages, affecting operations such as Hudbay Minerals in the Constancia mine, MMG Ltd’s Las Bambas, and Glencore’s Antapaccay and Antamina.

For instance, on 6th October 2021 an Indigenous community in the Peruvian province of Espinar blocked a key mining route in protest against the government and Glencore’s Antapaccay copper mine. Demonstrators protested the environmental and social impact of the mine and the lack of government commitment to the local population. Similarly, for ten days in October 2021, rural communities in the Apurímac region blocked the passage of trucks to the Las Bambas copper mine. The blockade came to an end after a preliminary dialogue between local authorities and the protesters, with the agreement to hold formal talks with the government and the company MMG Ltd in November 2021. A previous attempt at a dialogue had been suspended in September 2021.

On 31st October 2021, the country’s largest copper mine Antamina, controlled by Glencore and BHP, suspended its operations after several days of roadblocks organised by demonstrators from the rural Aquia community. The protesters claimed that the mine has yet to live up to its commitments to support and fund local communities. The company warned of a growing “spiral of protests” and made statements associating the demonstrations with violence. Pedro Castillo’s government sent representatives to negotiate with protesters, and the Energy and Mines Ministry said the protest would be lifted on 3rd November 2021 after a formal agreement for talks was signed.

Mirtha Vásquez, president of the Council of Ministers, called on business leaders to recognise the legitimacy of protesters’ demands, and to refrain from stigmatising them. “We have to understand the weariness of the people who have felt the lack of State protection and, on the other hand, the suppression of their demands by the companies themselves,” Vásquez said. Despite the attempts at dialogue, the mining conflicts continued into November 2021.

On a related note, an investigation by and CONNECTAS showed that in the past 17 years, extractive sector companies involved in socio-environmental conflicts in Peru signed security and protection agreements with the National Police worth over US$18 million. The vast majority of these agreements, 158 of 181, were signed between police and companies in the mining sector. 20 of these contracts were signed or were in force during clashes between police and local populations that resulted in deaths and injuries.

Amazon Strike

On 4th October 2021, more than 200 Indigenous protesters occupied station 5 of the North Peruvian Pipeline (ONP) in the Loreto department. The demonstration is part of a Paro Amazónico (“Amazon Strike”) convened by the Awajún Río Apaga Native Federation (FENARA) and the Plataforma de lucha de los Pueblos Afectados por la Actividad Petrolera (Platform of Peoples Affected by Petroleum Activity - PAAP).

Their demands were stated in “Plan Postpetróleo” (“Post-Oil Plan”), and include the approval of an Indigenous trust to finance the decontamination of the areas impacted by oil, the creation of a truth and justice commission on the impact of 50 years of oil activities and the construction of adequate infrastructure to guarantee essential services such as health and education in the region. The strike has received the support of Indigenous people’s organisations such as the Asociación Interétnica de Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana (Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Jungle - Aidesep).

The Indigenous mobilisation continued throughout the month and was still ongoing after 45 days, with more protests taking place in different oil lots of the region. On 17th November 2021, the Ombudsperson’s Office published a statement to express their concern about the lack of resolution and dialogue with the protesters. Initial dialogues were delayed by Peru’s cabinet reshuffle in October 2021.

Indigenous peoples arrive in the capital for a series of protests

On 18th October 2021, around 60 representatives of the Shipibo, Cacataibo and Asháninka peoples, among others, arrived in Lima for a series of sit-ins and protests to demand their land rights and to denounce the invasion of their ancestral territories by narcotrafficking. The leaders said illegal groups involved in cocaine trafficking have operated on the border between Huánuco, Ucayali, Junín and Pasco. They expressed concern about potential weakening of policies for illegal crop eradication, which would encourage the production of more illegal coca leaf crops. Criminal groups have taken advantage of insecurity around land rights to invade Indigenous territories and have threatened, attacked and kidnapped the communities living in these lands.

Berlin Diques, president of the Organización Regional Aidesep Ucayali (Regional Aidesep Organisation Ucayali - ORAU), said:

“We continue to insist on the implementation of the action protocol for protection measures.”

On 20th October 2021, the leaders gathered in front of the Ministry of Justice to protest a government decision that could further delay land titling processes. The Indigenous representatives met with the Minister of Justice and the president of the Council of Ministers. Following a meeting on 21st October 2021, Council president Mirtha Vásquez promised to create spaces for dialogue to promote territorial rights and the protection of environmental defenders.

Families demand justice for missing women and femicide victims

On 30th October 2021, mothers and relatives of disappeared women and femicide victims held their yearly vigil in front of the Palace of Justice in Lima. Members of the collective “Familias Unidas por Justicia: Ni una asesinada más” (“Families united for justice: not one murder more”) held photos of their loved ones and lit candles that symbolise the hope of finding them and the hope of justice for victims of femicides.


Judicial harassment

On 5th August 2021, journalist Carlos Yofré López Sifuentes of web portal Barranca Noticias was sentenced to a two-year suspended prison term and the payment of fines and damages in a criminal defamation case. The conviction was the result of a defamation complaint by the former president of Huaura’s superior court of justice, over a publication by the reporter exposing sexual harassment allegations against the judge. The magistrate was later fired after an oversight body analysed the allegations. According to the Asociación Nacional de Periodistas (National Journalists’ Association - ANP), Sifuentes has faced judicial harassment from magistrates in the Huaura province for exposing their alleged engagement in irregularities. The reporter said he would appeal the conviction. Sifuentes is facing a separate criminal defamation case filed by a local judge.

Separately, journalist Beto Gálvez is facing a complaint for alleged psychological abuse. Gálvez hosts the programme Uno + Uno, broadcast on radio and on social media. During his programme, the journalist denounced alleged public resource mismanagement by Gleysi López Bardales, a political adviser of the regional president of Huánuco. The accusations led López Bardales to file a complaint against the reporter. Gálvez said police officers contacted him by text message on 3rd October 2021 to let him know he had been cited to give a statement about the complaint, and that he should report to the police within an hour. He said he asked to reschedule the appointment for the following day as he was not in town. However, the police ignored this request and processed the charges without giving him a chance to make a statement.

In one more case, Peruvian authorities opened a criminal investigation into Ojo Público’s Ernesto Cabral over corruption reporting. The investigation against Cabral was reported by Ojo Público on 9th November 2021, in an article saying government prosecutors were seeking an order to force Cabral to reveal his sources for reports on a corruption scandal involving former Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and his former adviser Martín Belaunde, a businessman.

Attacks on journalists

On 9th October 2021, journalist Marleny Paredes Charca with news portal El Objetivo was attacked when covering a meeting of Uros Chulluni community leaders in the region of Puno, southern Peru. The meeting was reportedly taking place to discuss a case of land invasion in the community. As reported by Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Press and Society Institute – IPYS), the head of the local community patrol, known as “ronderos”, questioned the journalist’s presence in the area and tried to force her to leave. The man insulted the reporter and, when she refused to leave, hit her in the chest and then hit her with a whip. According to ANP, the community mayor was present but did not intervene.

On 14th October 2021, members of the far-right group La Resistencia assaulted a press team with Radio Exitosa when they were driving in Lima. As reported by IPYS, the assailants saw the car stopped at a traffic light and took advantage of the moment to insult the communicators and attack the vehicle. Journalist Karen Santillán told IPYS that “after all kinds of insults against us, they tried to attack us by hitting the car, repeatedly hitting the windows even though we did not respond to their attacks.” Santillán said that they were able to identify three of about ten attackers as known members of the far-right group.

In a separate incident involving La Resistencia, on 18th October 2021, members of the group in Lima insulted and threatened journalist René Gastelumendi, a reporter for the portal EpicentroTv. The incident took place when members of La Resistencia and of Los Combatientes disrupted an event at a bookstore where former president Francisco Sagasti was launching his new book. Members of the far-right groups gathered outside the bookstore and shouted insults at Sagasti through a megaphone. Gastelumendi was covering these developments when he was recognised as a reporter and threatened by members of the groups.

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, far-right group La Resistencia was engaged in the harassment and intimidation of journalists during Peru’s presidential election campaigns. In November 2021, the San Isidro Provincial Prosecutor opened an investigation into whether the group is connected to smear campaigns against journalists Gustavo Gorriti and Glatzer Tuesta, and against lawyer Carlos Rivera of the human rights organisation Instituto de Defensa Legal (Institute of Legal Defence - IDL).

Separately, on 21st October 2021, journalist Hugo Gonzales with web portal said his laptop and mobile phones were stolen by two robbers in Huaraz, Ancash region in the north of Peru. Gonzales was going home in a shared taxi when the driver suddenly changed route. A passenger, who the journalist believes was working with the driver, then immobilised Gonzales and took the equipment he used for his reporting. Gonzales said the devices contained important information related to alleged government irregularities, and that he did not rule out the possibility that the theft was connected to his work as a journalist.

Controversial bill could affect press freedom

On 17th September 2021, legislators of governing party Perú Libre presented a bill (N° 269/2021-CR) to Congress which would declare media a public service and establish State duties in regard to the equitable distribution of television and radio frequencies. The bill stipulates that the State might dictate temporary measures and even take control of some media services in moments of emergency.

Civil society organisations and press groups in Peru criticised the bill, saying it was too vague and posed risks to freedom of expression. IPYS said the bill would be unconstitutional, imposing a type of regulation of the media that would interfere with freedom of expression and the press. According to the Institute’s analysis, the proposed law could be used to expropriate media outlets and control content. The president of the Consejo de la Prensa Peruana (Peruvian Press Council - CPP) said the bill was too generic, and said the intention behind it was to control information in the country.

The country’s Ombudsperson’s Office also reacted by calling on Congress to shelve the bill, saying that the proposal lacked a sound legal basis. In a statement, they argued the project would infringe on media autonomy and might enable the government to take arbitrary measures against press freedom.

In a related development, civil society and press organisations published an “Agenda for the right to Communication,” presenting eight key proposals for improving the exercise of this right in Peru. The agenda was a collaboration of the National Human Rights Coordinator (CNDDHH), journalists’ association ANP, the Indigenous communicators network Red de Comunicadores Indígenas (Redcip) and more than 40 Peruvian media outlets. Their points include the need to tackle media concentration and to enable media diversity and access to information. They also called for a protocol for the protection of communication professionals from attacks and for actions to guarantee Indigenous communities’ right to communication.