Peruvian activists and farmers on trial for protesting against Tía María mining project

District attorney of Arequipa has demanded up to 30 years in jail for all the leaders who opposed the Tía María mining project and led the resistance struggle against it

March 07, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Protesters against the Tía María mine

The trial of social activists and farmers, who led the protests against the construction of the Tía María copper mine in March 2015, began on March 3 at the High Court of Arequipa region, Peru. Around 15 social and political leaders have been accused of illicit association, extortion, hindering public services and causing disturbances to the State.

District attorney of Arequipa, María Cabana, argued that the social protests were used by these leaders for obtaining economic benefits. Cabana accused the grassroots activist and former president of the Defense Front of the Tambo Valley, Pepe Julio Gutiérrez, of forming an alleged criminal organization and demanding 1.5 million USD from the Mexican Mining company, Southern Copper Corporation (SCC), in exchange for stopping the protests. She added that during the development of the protests, there were acts of violence that affected public and private properties and services and disturbed the functioning of the State.

Cabana has asked for 30 years in prison for Gutiérrez, while for others, between 10 and 20 years prison sentences. In addition, the attorney has demanded that the leaders pay 10.2 million Peruvian soles (approximately 3 million US dollars) as civil reparation, jointly, for affecting the State. The amount has been requested to cover the per diem, transportation and implements expenses of the police that were sent from Lima to Islay to suppress the protests and to repair the roads damaged during the clashes.

The leaders have rejected the prosecution of the Public Ministry and have alleged that there is a persecution on part of the government.

Many of these social leaders and farmers were also a part of the resistance struggle against the same mining project last year.

In July 2019, thousands of farmers and inhabitants of the Tambo Valley in the Islay province of Arequipa region, where the Tía María mine is located, began an indefinite strike after the Ministry of Energy and Mines gave the construction license to the SCC to resumen the construction of long-resisted mining project, ignoring the negative consequences that the mining activities will have to the environment and agriculture.

However, despite the strong four-month-long resistance by environmentalists, inhabitants, farmers, provincial and regional authorities, enduring heavy police repression, on October 30, 2019, the neoliberal right-wing government gave the green light to the project.

The construction of the mine began in 2003. However, in 2011, the project was put on hold after a series of protests carried out against it by the inhabitants of the region. Resistance to the project began again in 2015, when the government proposed to reopen it. In both moments of resistance to the project, the violent repression of protesters by national security forces caused several deaths and injuries.

Five years later, the capitalist Peruvian State has charged citizens and activists with false accusations and has demanded compensation from them for the crimes, for which the state itself was responsible.

In addition to Gutiérrez, the case includes the president of the Board of Users of the Tambo Valley, Jesús Cornejo; the lawyer Jesús Gómez Urquizo; the mayors Richard Ale Cruz and Julio Cornejo Reynoso; and former mayors José Ramos Carrera and Jaime De la Cruz Gallegos, and other leaders such as Miguel Meza Igme, Luis Alberto Justo Laredo, Esteban Pareja Prado, Martín Juárez Bernedo, Víctor Zeballos Ortiz, Juan Colquehuanca, Justo Paredes Torres, Jorge del Carpio Lazo, Martín Juárez Bernedo, Juan Manuel Meza Idme and Héctor Herrera Herrera.