By Michael Baney
July 9, 2012
Over the course of the last week, five protesters have been killed by the National Police of Peru in the Cajamarca region. The protestors are demonstrating against the opening of the Conga mine, a project of the Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation. Newmont is looking to open Conga to replace its nearby Yanacocha mine, once the largest-producing gold mine in the world, which is nearing the end of its productivity. The environmental degradation and political corruption caused by Newmont's activities at the Yanacocha mine were the subjects of an extensive investigation by The New York Times as well as a PBS documentary. Many locals fear that the Conga project, at least as it is currently planned, will cause social and environmental problems similar to those exposed by the media at Yanacocha.
Both the article in The New York Times and the PBS documentary on Newmont rely heavily on interviews with Fr. Marco Arana, who has negotiated with Newmont on behalf of the villagers who have been negatively impacted by the mine. Last week, Fr. Marco was beaten by the National Police while he sat peacefully on a park bench in the plaza of Cajamarca, and then forced into the back of a police pickup truck, all of which was filmed. Much attention has been given to one particular aspect of the video, which represents the gulf that divides the villagers and the National Police: immediately after the beating and arrest, a woman bravely approaches one of the police officers who attacked Fr. Marco and asks "why do you treat us this way?" The police officer turns around, looks directly at her, and responds, "Because you're a bunch of fucking dogs, that's why." Throughout the video, shots are heard being fired elsewhere in the city. President Ollanta Humala's Council of Ministers quickly announced that they did not order the arrest, but nevertheless justified it, stating that President Humala declared a state of emergency in the area and suspended constitutional rights, among which was the right to peaceably assemble. While sitting on the park bench, it was argued, he was essentially assembling, which he is not allowed to do until the state of emergency is cancelled.
Meanwhile, another video from Cajamarca has surfaced, this time of a student protest. The National Police are shown attempting to provoke the students with obscene gestures. As the students disperse, the police run after them, beating them in back of the heads with their nightsticks, and firing tear gas. At least one of the police officers appears to be carrying a pump-action shotgun, and four students are forced by police into the bed of an unmarked pickup truck and driven off. The video also shows a student who has been wounded in the back by police.
While the protests are over the actions of an American company, Newmont, that is not the only link between the violence in Cajamarca and the United States. The National Police of Peru are ultimately responsible to Wilver Calle Girón, the Minister of the Interior. A graduate of the School of the Americas (SOA), Wilver Calle Girón was formerly a general in the Peruvian army. During his military career, he was filmed signing a document prepared by notorious spy master and SOA graduate Vladimiro Montesinos, whose intelligence agency was supported by the CIA. The document stated that the below signed supported the "self-coup" launched by Alberto Fujimori and would "silently" do what they could to support the Amnesty Law that allowed soldiers and police who murdered civilians during Peru's internal conflict to escape unpunished -- a law that was ultimately overturned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. During the internal conflict, US-trained Calle Girón also served as the commander of one of Peru's "Political-Military Commands," a system formally used in Peru that subordinated democratically-elected local leaders and representatives of the civilian government to the military chain of command. This system is widely thought of to have encouraged human rights abuses, at it created scenarios in which civilian authorities charged with reviewing claims of abuses were ultimately subordinate to the very troops they were supposed to be investigating.
The unfortunate actions in Cajamarca well demonstrate that while Latin America as a whole has greatly changed since the end of the Cold War, human rights and democracy concerns still exist today. Peru has historically been one of the biggest senders of personnel to the School of the Americas, and in recent years the bulk of Peru's SOA students have been members of the National Police. While the American people have a right to know if the police involved in the deadly violence in Cajamarca were trained by SOA/WHINSEC, cross-checking the names of the students with those of the abusers is impossible, as the US Department of Defense refuses to release the names of WHINSEC students, citing "the historical stigma" that has been attached to graduates of the school. Of course, the stigma exists only because so many SOA/WHINSEC graduates have been involved in abuses, which is why SOA Watch will continue to fight get the names of the students released and have the school finally shut down.
As for the protestors in Cajamarca, they continue to demand to be heard and treated with respect. The protests are certain to create further demands that President Humala replace his Prime Minister, Oscar Valdés Dancuart, a former military officer and an SOA graduate whose appointment was seen as a signal to protestors that the Humala government would take a tough line against anyone who protested against the Conga mine project. And they are certain to create further demands for justice for those who have been attacked, beaten, and killed in Cajamarca.