A respite imposed by martial law after nearly two months of violent anti-mining protests has sent farmers in a fertile coastal valley of southern Peru back to their fields.
Most say they would be more than happy to sacrifice the current crop if it means preventing Mexico’s biggest mining company from going ahead with a copper extraction project that farmers fear will contaminate the Tambo Valley.
“Here, life is peaceful. He who works, even if he lacks an education, gets ahead. Why would we want a mine?” Domingo Condori said while taking a break from harvesting rice.
Farmers like Condori earn about $4,000 an acre on the crop, which has two growing seasons a year.
The government suspended civil liberties late last month as President Ollanta Humala sent in 2,000 soldiers to restore order in the valley, whose 47,000 residents are mostly farmers. Under the decree, public gatherings are illegal and security forces can search homes and make arrests without warrants.
“Farming is what gives us work, what gives us food to eat,” said a teenager named Luis, who participated in clashes with police and avoided police dragnets by hiding in abandoned houses in the hills or in the sugarcane fields by the ocean.
Dozens of young men like Luis, who agreed to talk only if not fully identified, would pummel police with rocks fired from slingshots while supporters stood behind them handing out bottles of vinegar to counteract police tear gas. The confrontations killed two farmers, a mason and a police officer and injured 263 officers and 119 farmers, according to the National Ombudsman’s office.
The mining company, Grupo Mexico, last month announced a 60-day suspension of its $1.4 million copper mining project and said it hoped to “find solutions” for moving forward.
The company says the project will not pollute the valley because it will use desalinated water from the Pacific for processing and return the water directly to the ocean.
Few locals believe the company. They think the mine will pollute crops and destroy their way of life. They feel betrayed by Peru’s president and many vow to keep up the resistance.
“Ollanta came to power in 2011 saying he would support agriculture and now he is doing the total opposite,” said Condori.
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