Amid continued crackdowns on anti-mining protesters and growing social unrest, Prime Minister Oscar Valdés stepped down yesterday as part of President Ollanta Humala’s cabinet reshuffle. Valdés, a former army officer, assumed office in December 2011. Two government sources said the president would likely pick as Valdés’ successor Justice Minister Juan Jimenez, a human rights lawyer who has already replaced Valdés in dealing with many controversies.
Valdés tweeted his resignation, thanking friends for their “support and constructive criticism.” In keeping with Peru’s constitution, all other cabinet ministers also offered their resignations. While some, like Finance Minister Luis Miguel Castilla, are likely to be reappointed, Interior Minister Wilver Calle is also expected to be replaced.
Promoting Jimenez may help Humala counter the argument that his government has taken a militant approach toward civilians protesting major mining projects, including the $4.8-billion Minas Conga project operated by the Minera Yanacocha consortium (led by U.S.-based Newmont Mining) in the northern Cajamarca region, where clashes have already led to the deaths of five civilians this month. The conflicts have largely erupted over environmental concerns, with anti-mine protesters contending that mining operations will lead to water, air and agricultural contamination. Regional government leaders who have led the protests also say Humala has turned his back on the rural poor, who largely voted for him in last year’s presidential election but have benefited little from mining activities in their communities. President Humala has said that the Conga project will move forward as long as the company meets certain requirements aimed at mitigating its environmental impact, including ensuring that water in the surrounding area is both available and of good quality.
Oscar Valdés’ predecessor, Salomon Lerner, resigned after five months of serving in the Humala administration. His departure was also precipitated by social unrest, which at that time caused President Humala to declare a state of emergency in the province of Cajamarca.
Humala’s approval ratings fell to 40 percent in July, according to the Ipsos Apoyo survey—down from a peak in February of 59 percent. Analysts attribute the decline in popularity to the growing discontent and social unrest that has claimed the lives of 15 people since Humala took office. The president is expected to deliver a nationwide speech marking his first year in office on July 28.