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Activists persecuted
4/3/2008
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Authorities and community representatives who promoted a popular vote on mining companies have been accused of “terrorism.”

The self-named Front of Unity Among the Campesino Community in Segunda y Cajas Civil Association accused a total of 28 people of terrorism — including mayors, local authorities, activists and human rights defenders — based on their support of a community vote Sept. 17 of last year against the Rio Blanco copper exploitation project in Piura, owned by the Majaz Mining company.

According to the association, those charged belong to surviving groups of subversive organizations Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.

Nicanor Alvarado — coordinator for the San Francisco Javier Vicariate Environment Office in Jaen, in the northern Cajamarca department and one of the accused — claimed the allegations are much like a “witch hunt.”

Javier Jahncke, lawyer for the Ecumenical Foundation for Development and Peace (Fedepaz), also accused, told local newspaper La República, “the accusation supports efforts to persecute every person and authority who is worried about the activities that affect the environment.”

According to Fedepaz, the recently created association that supports all mining activity “is composed of people who are not even part of the campesino community of Segunda y Cajas and who have no representation in local social organizations.”

A press release from Fedepaz adds, “It’s interesting that this accusation has been presented in the context of a campaign taken on by certain media, companies and the government itself, and whose objective is to create the false idea that there is an alleged ‘anti-system network’ looking to destabilize the government and prevent mining investment.”

But this is not the first campaign against supporters of popular vote. A month before the vote took place, citizen action was declared illegal by the National Electoral Board — the Peruvian electoral court — and President Alan García called the nongovernmental organizations who backed the vote, “communists” and “enemies of investment.”

Death threats
Defending the environment against powerful mining companies is now equated with risking one’s life. At the end of 2006, Father Marco Arana, Catholic priest and director of the Cajamarca-based Formation and Intervention for Sustainable Development, or GRUFIDES, was the target of an espionage and intimidation mission for his constant accusations of environmental damage caused by Yanacocha, the most productive gold mining company in Latin America.

Jahncke and other social leaders have received death threats for their defense of the communities’ right to decide, leading to the opening of an investigation process and even the intervention of United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Mirtha Vásquez of GRUFIDES told the National Radio Coordinator that the speed with which the accusation was processed and presented to the police’s National Counter-Terrorism Office draws suspicion.

“At this time it is more and more evident that there is a persecution policy against groups and persons who defend the environment,” Vásquez claimed. “Until now, there has never been a government so repressive that it tries to openly persecute with the aim of silencing the voices of those who support environmental protection and that gives all benefits to the mining companies.”

Peruvian rights organization APRODEH sent a press release reminding that an investigation on Majaz — now Río Blanco Copper S.A. — is currently underway for its failure to respect communities’ rights and it was recently fined for not complying with the compromises assumed in its environmental studies and for damage done to the environment.

“They are trying to jail us, looking to kill us or looking to make us disappear,” Alvarado told the National Radio Coordinator. “I hold the central government and the mining companies responsible.” 
—Latinamerica Press.


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