Thousands of Indigenous protestors have mobilized in the highland city of Puno, Peru, this week over fears that a Canadian-led silver mining operation will contaminate water supplies in the area. The protests, which began on Thursday, have largely cut off the city of 120,000 from the rest of Peru, stranded hundreds of foreign tourists who use the town as a staging point for tours of Lake Titicaca, and shut down a nearby border crossing to Bolivia.
According to local reports, these latest protests, which come less than 10 days before Peru’s scheduled second-round presidential elections on June 5, have been accompanied by sporadic violence. “They’ve started to loot public and private institutions, banks and shopping centers,” police officer William Anda said on local radio. In response, President Alan Garcia has authorized the army to prevent escalation, but it has thus far not acted to put down the protests by force.
In a statement, Andrew Swarthout, CEO of the mining firm Bear Creek, which holds the concessions over the areas in dispute, attributed the protests to pre-election political tension, “which have arisen from communities distant from and unaffected by the Santa Ana Project.” Hernán Cauna, a protest leader, declared: “We will defend our land until the very end, even though the state is causing pressure by mobilizing their armed forces and police.”