Peru: populist pursues presidency from prison

Left-populist presidential candidate Gregorio Santos Guerrero insists he will run in Peru's April election—despite remaining behind bars at Ancón I prison outside Lima. Santos, affectionately known as "Goyo," was already re-elected to the presidency of the northern region of Cajamarca from prison in 2014, and officially remains the region's executive. He says his "preventative detention" under pending corruption charges is political retaliation for his advocacy for the peasants and poor of Cajamarca—especially his support of the region's popular struggle against the US-backed Conga gold mine mega-project, now stalled due to widespread protests. In a statement this month, he said he would not be detained "if the law were applied equally," and scoffed at the notion that he was a flight risk while officially serving as a regional president. While Santos has been imprisoned, Cajamarca's acting executive has been his vice president, Porfirio Medina. (, Feb. 12; Andina, Feb. 10; La Republica, Feb. 1)

Peru: hydro opponent slain in Cajamarca

An opponent of the planned Chadín II hydro-electric complex on the Río Marañon in northern Peru was assassinated Dec. 28, gunned down in a hail of five bullets at his home in a rural district of Cajamarca region. Hitler Ananías Rojas Gonzales, 34, was president of the local Ronda Campesina (peasant self-defense patrol), and had recently been elected mayor of the pueblo of Yagen in Cortegana district of Celendín province. Also the vice-president of the Yagen Defense Front, formed to protect the area's natural resources from development interests, he had received numerous death threats for his opposition to the hydro project, as well as legal charges of "kidnapping" (often employed against activists who block traffic during protests). He leaves behind five children. (Servindi, Dec. 28)

Peru: campesino family scores win against mine

In a reversal for Peru's Yanacocha mining company, campesina Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family, convicted of land usurpation against the company by a local court, had their sentence overturned by the Cajamarca Supreme Court of Justice on Dec. 18. Acuña de Chaupe and three family members faced two years and eight months in prison and a $2,000 fine. The regional high court also ruled that no move should be made by Yanacocha on the disputed plot, although it stopped short of actually overturning the charge against the Chaupe family. The plot, long part of a predio (collective holding) called Tragadero Grande, is coveted by Yanacocha for infrastructure related to the controversial Conga open-pit project. Máxima Acuña de Chaupe became a symbol of the struggle against the Conga project, hailed as the "Lady of the Lagunas." (La Republica, Dec. 18)

Peru: unrest mounts in Cajamarca

A mass mobilization was held in Peru's northern city of Cajamarca Nov. 4 to protest the police slaying of local mechanic Fidel Flores in an eviction five days earlier. National Police troops used tear-gas to break up the protest amid street clashes in which a local police post was besieged and two police motorcycles were doused with petrol and burned. Students occupied the National University of Cajamarca as part of the protest mobilization, and the city's intermediary school San Ramón was also shut down by students who walked out of class to join the campaign. Protest organizers resolved not to permit any visible presence at the demonstrations by Cajamarca's ruling left-populist Social Affirmation Movement (MAS), saying that the death of Fidel Flores should not be exploited by political parties.

Peru: one dead in Cajamarca eviction

The police eviction of a family in a working-class district of Peru's northern city of Cajamarca left one  dead and 10 detained Oct. 30. A court ordered the eviction of the family from their home in the city's Diego Ferré district, ruling that a new owner had bought the property at auction. But the family resisted eviction by a squad of riot police, leading to clashes outside the home. Resident Fidel Flores Vásquez, who the family considered the legitimate owner of the house, was shot by police as he stood on the building's roof, and died on the way to the hospital. Video showed police brutalizing and arresting family members who attempted to come his aid as he lay mortally wounded on the rooftop. A fracas with neighborhood residents subsequently erupted, in which police used tear-gas, and three officers were reported wounded. Residents later marched on the local headquarters of DRINCRI, the special investigative police force that carried out the raid. (RPP, Andina, Oct. 30)

Peru: populist governor re-elected from prison

Gregorio Santos, the populist president of Peru's Cajamarca region, was comfortably re-elected Oct. 5—despite being imprisoned as corruption charges are pending against him. The biggest issue in the race by far was the unpopular Conga gold mine project, majority-owned by US-based Newmont Mining. Peru's central government said it would recognize the victory, while his supporters marched in Lima to demand his freedom. Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal called for a "political dialogue with all the actors" to resolve the crisis in Cajamarca. But Jorge Vergara Quiroz, president of the Cajamarca Chamber of Commerce, said that Santos' re-election created a climate of "uncertainty" that would discourage investment, and called on him not to take office. Segundo Mendoza, spokesman for Santos' Social Affirmation Movement (MAS), responded that the party respects private investment. He called on authorities to free Santos, saying he posed no flight risk.

Peru: Newmont behind water authority shake-up?

US-based Newmont Mining is facing a new controversy concerning the pending Conga mega-mine, to be developed by its majority-owned subsidiary in Peru's Cajamarca region. Milton Sánchez, leader of the Interinstitutional Platform of Celendín, charged that the Yanacocha mining company is preparing to start removal of water from Laguna El Perol to an artificial reservoir in order to facilitate turning the site of the lake into an open-pit mine. He further charged that Peru's National Water Authority has changed the director of its local administrative region, VI Marañón, in order to allow this work to move ahead. Sánchez said the new regional director, Carlos Enrique Gastelo Villanueva, was brought in after his predecessor refused to sign off on "relocation" of the lake. Sánchez said his followers are prepared to begin a sit-in at the regional offices of the Water Authority if approval is given for the water transfer. (Celendin Libre, Sept. 11)

Cajamarca: campesino family convicted in retrial

The Penal Court of Celendín, in Peru's Cajamarca region, sentenced three members of the Chaupe family—Jaime Chaupe, Máxima Acuña, Elías Chávez and Isidora Chaupe—to two years and eight months in prison for the crime of land usurpation against the Yanacocha mineral company. The contested land, in Sorochuco district, Celendín province, is located in the influence zone of the contested Conga mega-mine project. The sentence may be suspended, but the defendants were also fined 5,000 soles, approximately $2,000. Yanacocha's lawyers argued that the presence of a company road through the disputed 30-hectare plot indicated the company's prior ownership of it. Mirtha Vásquez, counsel for the Chaupe family, countered that the company had never legally registered its ownership of the plot since purportedly purchasing it in 1996.

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