Peru’s Aymara people, who threatened the government with massive protests, have persuaded Congress to halt a bill proposing payment of US$31 million to the Canadian Bear Creek Mining Corporation as compensation for the 2011 resistance movement known as ‘Aymarazo.’
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The Budget Commission voted against article 13 of the 03121-2017 bill on Thursday. Oracio Pacori Mamami, a lawmaker from Puno and head of the commission, warned Congress about the social upheaval passing such a bill would trigger.
"We have warned the minister of economy about this danger and that’s why we left this payment suspended," Pacori Mamami said.
Patricio Illacutipa, Aymara leader and president of the Front in Defense of Natural Resources of the southern region in Puno, had threatened authorities with a mass mobilization if the "unjust" bill was passed: "As a people, we’re already organizing for a second Aymarazo. We’re just waiting for an answer from Congress."
Bear Creek obtained six mining licenses for its Santa Ana Project, which aimed to extract 63 million ounces of silver a year in the Huacullani and Kelluyo districts.
Locals, however, argued the mines would affect the environment and pollute the Desaguadero River and Lake Titicaca, and in 2011 organized the Aymarazo protest.
Communities claim Bear Creek offered no previous consultation, thus violating Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, which states that Indigenous peoples should be consulted on projects planned in their territories.
The court suspended the project, but Bear Creek later sued the state at the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (CIADI), on the grounds of the free trade treaty between Canada and Peru.
CIADI ruled in favor of the mining company and ordered the state to pay US$30.2 million in damages, but the debt has yet to be settled and Carlos Oliva Neyra, the economy and finance minister, has warned it is accumulating interest.
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Illacutipa and other Indigenous leaders say the company should pay the people, because communities couldn’t harvest their crops and as a consequence lost millions during the 45-day Aymarazo protest.
"We did not harvest anything during those 45 days and we make a living out of agriculture, of livestock, of commerce, and we lost millions. We shouldn’t pay; they should pay us," Illacutipa said. "We won’t allow the state to pay a mining company that has been harmful to hundreds of people. It’s them who should indemnify us."
More than 400 Aymara leaders sent a letter to President Martin Vizcarra and other high-ranking officials demanding they ignore the CIADI ruling and reject the payment, and warning of a second Aymarazo if their pleas went unheard.
The 2011 movement was criminalized by authorities and media outlets, and many of its leaders were arrested for ‘inciting riot’ and other charges. The Aymarazo is now remembered as one of the turning points in Peru’s Indigenous struggles.