A couple of hundred people, mostly of university age, marched around Cuzco’s plaza yesterday with banners and signs held high. The plaza is Cuzco’s central ceremonial place and often is the site of ritual, including the troupes of dancers that captivate the tourists and locals. While many of these young people may once have danced around the plaza, today they are marching in another important ceremony, this time political, of concern for happenings within the region (state) of Cuzco.
They were concerned with the state of seige recently declared in the province of Espinar where violent clashes between protesters and police recently caught the national eye.
The situation in Espinar has been simmering for quite some time, in a Peru in which similar conflicts have taken place in the last year or so both to the south of Cuzco, in Puno, and to the north, in Cajamarca.
One thing in common among all these protests is concern for mines run by multinational mining companies and resistance to them by local peoples for environmental and economic reasons. While in the north it is the Conga gold mines run by Newmont Mining, and in Puno it was The Bear creek Mining’s concession for Santa Ana mines as well as the proposal to develop mines on Cerro Khapia, in Espinar the focus is on one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world.
Called Tintaya, this massive open pit belongs to the XSTRATA mining company and is undergoing a massive expansion of mining. Local political leaders and residents have been protesting the mine and its environmental degradation for quite some time. The issue also figures within concerns to increase local economic benefit from multinational resource extraction.
Such conflicts between farmers, herders, and other local residents and multinational industries are on the rise in the Andes. This comflicts place national governments in a bind, given the economic value of the mining concessions and the international agreements that support them, at the same time local people demand local democratic power to object and resist.
They also emphasize the contradictions of local governments that are supposed to represent the needs of local peoples while they also fit into a legal and governmental hierarchy that ties them to Lima and its reliance on resource extraction for national economic development.
While Espinar province is tense and under military control, due to the state of seige, the issue is compelling people, such as the university students and faculty who marched today, to respond and challenge the national government in support of the people of Espinar. Nevertheless, the city of Cuzco and tourist areas are calm.
To most travelers the march was little more than one more curiosity in their travels into the simulacrum of Incadom. But for those who wish to know this is a very important issue and one that promises to be a growing crisis for the government of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala.