Regional Elections in Puno

29 November 2014

With only days to go before the 7 December second round of regional elections, one of the most interesting contests is taking place in Puno, in the south-east of the country on the border with Bolivia. The role of extractive industries is a key issue here.

As in other parts of Peru, the dispersion of candidates meant that none reached the threshold of 50% plus one to win outright. The two front-runners are Walter Aduviri for a party called Democracia Directa and Juan Luque for one called PICO, both representing the ethnic divide between Aymara and Quechua speakers in Puno.

Aduviri rose to prominence nationally as the leader of the so-called ‘Aymarazo’, a massive protest in 2011 against the presence of a Canadian multinational, Bear Creak, in developing the Santa Ana copper mine in the south of Puno. Huge demonstrations took place in Puno that brought activity in the city to a halt. He has strong backing among the Aymara community, concentrated in the city of Puno and in other communities along the shores of Lake Titicaca. The Aymara community is tightly organised and has a reputation for maintaining its cultural coherence as against the more numerous Quechua speakers of southern Peru.

Although Aduviri has moderated his anti-mining discourse since 2011 when the Aymarazo forced the then García government to suspend the development of Santa Ana, he remains a strident critic of the activities of transnational mining companies. His political stance has, to a certain degree, been influenced by events in recent years in Bolivia, and the success of Evo Morales in imposing greater state control over extractive industries. His electoral symbol, a little house (casita) which in reality looks more like a dog kennel, adorns the walls throughout southern Puno.

Juan Luque, for his part, has a rather more conservative discourse more inclined to welcome mining investment in Puno. His support is concentrated in the Quechua-speaking communities of the northern part of the region. He is the rector of a private university in Puno, though his academic credentials are questioned by his opponents. His PICO party, with its symbol a pick-axe, is weaker in the south than the north. Many in northern Puno welcome the development of mining as a source of employment in this otherwise impoverished part of Peru.

The two appear to be running neck and neck, though the absence of any reliable polls makes it difficult to be sure the state of public opinion. A key battleground will be in the city of Juliaca, a melting pot of both Quechua and Aymara speakers and a magnet for informal entrepreneurs from all over southern Peru. The impressive demographic growth of Juliaca in recent years lends it particular electoral significance.

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