Cañaris: “We are community members and we want to defend our lands”

A group of women in traditional dress stand behind a sign that reads "We don't want pollution"
“We don’t want pollution” Photo: Servindi

Since 2012, Vancouver-based Candente Copper has been exploring for copper and gold in the community of San Juan de Cañaris, in the province of Ferranafe, a largely Indigenous, Quechua-speaking agricultural community.

The company’s proposal to construct an open-pit mine near the principal source of water for downstream communities in San Juan de Cañaris has given rise to local opposition for which the community has been criminalized.

We are not led by terrorists nor by leaders from another region. We are all community members and we want to defend our lands, our customs, our cloud forests and water.

– Rosa Humán, leader for women’s issues in San Juan de Cañaris

Resistance to Candente Copper and Resulting Criminalization of Dissent

an image of a grey scale against a maroon background - one side of the scale is lower holding gold nuggets and so tipped lower than the otherThroughout continued community opposition to the mine, both Candente Copper and the Peruvian state have consistently collaborated to manipulate the legal landscape and use stigmatization, threat of imprisonment and violence to silence dissent.

This case is a glaring example of how the law and the justice system in Peru continues to work in favour of corporate interests. It shows how the state uses the language of protection and impartiality to protect corporate interests at the expense of the people.

Timeline

A group of around 100 community members are gathered together to block a dirt road.
Community members block the road in the district of Cañaris, province of Ferreñafe, in protest against Candente Coppers’ mining project .

July 2012

A judge convened a local vote on the proposed mining project. This vote came out in favour of the mining company, but the vote was poorly attended and the process has been heavily criticized as designed to benefit the company.

September 2012

A community convened consultation was held by secret ballot with national police and journalists observing. El Comercio reported that over 3,000 participated and the vote was 95% against Candente Copper’s proposed open-pit mine and other activities in the zone that threaten the water supplies of these principally agricultural communities.

Since then, the community has been demanding respect for the results of the September 30, 2012 vote and the annulment of a water permit granted by the National Water Authority, while the company continues to rely on the July 2012 results.

December 2012

The community announced that it would begin demonstrations against the project, calling for fair dialogue and demanding that the results of the September vote be respected.

handcuffs▷ The National Office for Dialogue led by Vladimiro Huaroc had already started a conversation with members of the central and regional government, the company and select community members in favour of the project. It was clear to outside observers and the community that this dialogue was designed to look for a way to get the mining project underway.

Meetings were taking place in the city of Chiclayo and,  when the community San Juan de Cañaris initiated their protest, Huaroc publicly announced that any question about the future of the company’s project was not on the table. The company’s project, he said, “is not stopped and will not stop,” discarding demonstrators as “a radicalized minority.”

January 2013

Protests began on January 20th, 2013.

An Indigenous woman in traditional dress faces off against a police officer in riot gear. The backdrop is rolling green hills.
Police hold off Indigenous women protesting the Candente Copper mine at San Juan de Cañaris

handcuffs▷ Some 300 to 500 police were sent in to defend the mine site the same day.

▷ On January 24th, 2013 the provincial Attorney’s office ordered police to evict people from the road leading to the proposed mine site at which time twenty five community members were injured, five of them seriously. One man,Santos Tantarico Manayai, was reportedly shot with live ammunition. The regional chief of police, however, told the media that the police used tear gas and rubber bullets.

▷ Public officials, media commentators and the company tried to discredit the protests, denying that the community had legitimate concerns over their water supply or their future livelihoods, and that the community was being manipulated by outside interests, former members of terrorist groups and people with political interests. Candente CEO Joanne Freeze herself blamed the conflict on “underlying ‘business interests’” and people that “have been linked to terrorist groups.”

Ongoing Conflict and Criminalization

A closeup of a woman speaking at a microphone in brightly coloured Indigenous dress
Cañaris community leader Rosa Huamán. Photo: Danial Cima

San Juan de Cañaris has not rejected the idea of a state-led consultation process, if it is carried out in good faith. However, they reiterate that their consultation of September 2012 should be respected together with their right to free, prior and informed consent.

In May 2013, San Juan de Cañaris filed a complaint with the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights demanding that they be respected as an Indigenous community and that the persecution against community leaders who have been denounced by the company stop.

handcuffs▷ Describing persistent police presence, Cañaris community member Rosa Huamán remarked in late 2014 that “They won’t leave us in peace. The government has installed a police post that follows our activities and reports to the mining company and the government.”

▷ The community’s legal advisor has also reported that after the protests some 200 community members faced legal processes “for presumably having altered the public order during protests against the Cañariaco mining project,” based on complaints filed by representatives of the company, including against one person who has been paralyzed in bed for 10 years.