SICUANI, Peru (CNS) — Church leaders in Peru called for dialogue and expressed concern about the detention of two human rights workers in the southern Andes Mountains during violent protests over a copper mine.
Two people have been killed and dozens, including police officers, have been injured in demonstrations against the Tintaya Mine, owned by Xstrata, a Swiss company. On May 28, the government imposed a 30-day state of emergency after the protest, which began the week before, turned violent May 27.
The mine, which local residents say pollutes water and soil in the area, is located in the Territorial Prelature of Sicuani, a church jurisdiction where most of the inhabitants are Quechua farmers. Environmental monitoring coordinated by the prelature has found high levels of metals in water and soil samples.
The church workers were detained May 28 after two lawyers from the prelature’s human rights office persuaded demonstrators to free a government prosecutor who was investigating the protests. According to local reports, the lawyers accompanied the prosecutor to the mining camp, where some protesters were being held in a police station.
While the two lawyers went inside with the prosecutor, their driver and another prelature employee were detained. Police later claimed that they had found ammunition in the vehicle. The detained workers were released May 30, according to government reports.
In a statement May 29, U.S.-born Bishop Miguel La Fay Bardi of Sicuani and other prelature officials “categorically rejected” the accusation that ammunition had been found in the vehicle.
“In light of legitimate concerns about quality of life and environmental pollution, we are convinced that (the protests) are consequences of demands that have not been channeled or listened to directly,” the statement said. The prelature officials called for representatives of the mining company, local residents and the national government to “sit down together and evaluate the impact of mining on the national and local economy, without ignoring the people’s legitimate aspirations for sustainable development based on respect for human rights, to reach a solution that satisfies everyone.”
They also called for the government to consider lifting the state of emergency and to guarantee the rights of everyone involved, including those arrested during the protests.
Bishop Salvador Pineiro Garcia-Calderon, president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference, called for renewed dialogue “to peacefully and effectively resolve the conflicts that have arisen.”
In a statement dated May 30, Bishop Pineiro wrote: “Building a culture of peace is an urgent task. Peace assumes constructive, transparent, tolerant dialogue that respects life, the environment, the dignity of the person and the common good.”