The Peruvian government’s decision on May 22 to declare a State of Emergency in Islay followed continued violence in opposition to the Tía María mining project put forward by Southern Copper. That day, Ramon Colque, a protester, died, from head injuries caused by a rock, according to the Ministry of the Interior, and seven were injured including three police.
The State of Emergency will last for 60 days and suspends individual and political guarantees for that time. Among other things it outlaws the holding of political gatherings, and restricts the need for court orders or search warrants to arrest people and search their homes. The police will continue to maintain order, with the military as a back-up. The army had already been sent in ten days earlier.
When the army was sent in, we argued that this was not a response that would change people’s attitudes towards the mining project. Rather, we said that it would probably harden people’s unwillingness to see it go ahead in any shape of form. The same seems true of the State of Emergency. However, stung by criticism of the government’s failure to respond to the challenge posed by the communities of the Tambo Valley in Islay, the government wants to be seen wielding the big stick. Meanwhile assertions about ‘anti-mining terrorists’ continue to circulate.
Declaring States of Emergencies in Peru has unfortunate precedents, leading to violations of human rights on a grand scale. Though it seems unlikely that the Humala government will want to go down that road, giving the armed forces free rein to suffocate political dissent can only lead to likely excesses.