May 24, 2013
Peru enforces emergency decree to end mining protest
Humala, a former army officer, called leaders of the environmental protest "intransigent" after weeks of mediation efforts failed again late yesterday - prompting him to give the military and police extraordinary powers to end rallies that have shut roads, schools and hospitals in Cajamarca.
Protesters say US-based Newmont Mining's Conga mine would hurt local water supplies and demand that it be canceled. But the government says the largest mining investment in Peruvian history would generate thousands of jobs and huge tax revenue.
The conflict has tested populist Humala's resolve to govern as a moderate who can simultaneously help Peru's poor and keep big business happy. Critics had urged the president to take a firmer hand in breaking up the strike, saying left-wing groups had infiltrated the protest marches by local residents.
"Normal activities are resuming. People are returning to work, going to school and reopening stores," Interior Minister Oscar Valdes said in Cajamarca, nearly 620 miles (1000 km) north of the capital Lima.
"The problems of water and the mine need to be resolved. The government doors are open to dialogue. This constitutional decree shouldn't alarm anybody," he said on RPP radio.
The decree marked the first time Humala, a former army officer, has used special powers to defuse a social conflict over mining in Peru, where disputes in some 200 communities across the country threaten to delay billions of dollars in planned mine and oil projects.
Humala won the presidency in June on promises to steer more social spending to rural towns to help calm social conflicts over natural resources while assuring companies their investments would be safe in Peru's surging economy.
Gregorio Santos, the governor of Cajamarca region who has led the protests, said residents would return to their normal life today but continue to peacefully oppose the mine.
"The president lacks the power of persuasion so he has had to resort to the power of guns. When you can't convince with words you rely on gun barrels," an angry Santos told reporters.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Salomon Lerner negotiated for hours with leaders of the protest but could not reach an accord, leading Humala to invoke a tool his predecessor, former President Alan Garcia, frequently used to quash protests by suspending freedom of assembly.
The state of emergency decree came after a protest against a prison expansion project spiraled out of control on Friday in the coastal city of Canete, killing one protester in a clash with police that appeared to catch the government off guard.
Though the death was unrelated to hundreds of environmental disputes nationwide that Humala has promised to end, it was the first stemming from a protest since he took office in July.