Monday, June 27, 2011

I'm fed up with reading and getting sent links to crappy English language reports and commentary on the Puno protests in Peru.... here's part of the script from yesterday's IKN Weekly issue 112 that contains a few facts.

The Puno protests: Trying to make head and tail of the situation
This is one of those situations that I’m unhappy to have called well, on a social level at least. On an investment level we may have been handed our ultra-bargain entry point (see the first part of ‘Market Watching’). As for the events in the Puno region this week, yes it’s ended in bloodshed because it was always going to end in bloodshed because that’s how Peru works (or doesn’t work, depending on your point of view). But what we also have is a growing protest that’s being badly reported in the English language by nearly all those who have decided to spill ink on the subject. That bad reporting has sometimes been deliberate and sometimes through simple innocent ignorance, but it’s not getting what’s actually going on in the Puno region of southern Peru very well. Here we’re going to try and remedy things with a basic roadmap.

The basic point to understand is that the protests that have captured headlines recently aren’t one protest but three. They are somewhat connected, because the second and then the third sprung up when those unhappy parties saw the success that the first group was getting, but when it comes to specific issues and demands there are three protests happening.

1) The Santa Ana Protest (for want of a better name). This is the one at the South end of the Lake Titicaca area that has blocked the border crossings between Peru and Bolivia. The first protest to happen, it’s also the one that captured all the headlines three or four weeks ago and is the one we started covering first way back in IKN104 (and virtually all editions since then).

2) The Carabaya/Inambari Protest: This one started up a couple of weeks after the Santa Ana protest began to catch headlines and concerns the area called Carabaya, which is up on the way to the Andean peaks Northwest of Lake Titicaca and centres around the town of Macusani. Although protests did mention local mining concessions as a secondary cause, the main reason for the roadblocks and strikes was the plan to build a very large hydroelectric power station in the Inambari valley area on the Amazon basin side of the same mountain range. The plan has now been scrapped.

3) The Azángaro/Juliaca Airport Protest: This is the most recent protest and came to a head this Friday with the deaths of five protesters at Juliaca airport, the only airport in the region that can take modern passenger planes from Lima. This protest was run by people from a town near to Juliaca called Azángaro, to the North of Lake Titicaca, and its mission was to stop the contamination of the Ramis River that runs from the environmental disaster area of the Rinconada informal mining zone up in the mountains and dumps pollution all along the run of the river and into Lake Titicaca itself (it’s ‘herself’ in fact, but that’s another story).

Now as mentioned previously there’s clearly a relationship between the three protests, as it would be more than strange to think that after years of relative tranquility, suddenly three protests spring up separately in the same area without any sort of connection. But in fact the connections are indirect and more about the second group seeing that the first group is getting results, then moving to make their own point (then the third group doing the same). As for the reasons behind the bloodshed in the third protest instead of the first two, that’s more about the individual circumstances of each blockade. In the first one, the Aymara indigenous protesting had a very strong leverage point against the government thanks to the geography of the area and the border crossing to Bolivia. That crossing carries a lot of trade between the two countries and is also relatively inaccessible (except for the blocked road itself), which means that control of the leverage point is easy to maintain. The second protest in the Carabaya region was more pacific (there were a couple of isolated incidents against junior mining warehouses run by SUR.v and YEL.v, nothing really bad however) but the locals are isolated there and they also have a decent bargaining chip; they can block the brand new Interoceanic road that runs between Peru and Brazil.

So to the third group from Azángaro, enthused by the positive results obtained by protest one and protest two, wanted to make their point and stop their river from being polluted so heavily. They had less obvious leverage with no key roads nearby and no economic target to pressure, so they decided to move on a communication point that’s heavily defended by forces of order and also easily approached from multiple directions, Juliaca Airport. Therefore when the protest tried to take over the airport, not only were police and military already installed but they also have specific orders and regulations that allow them to shoot to kill under exceptional circumstances if the airport comes under attack. Five deaths from gunshot wounds to heads and chests (instead of using rubber bullets or aiming at legs first) as well as 30 wounded by police shooting into crowds may be brutal, but it’s also legal under the circumstances and according to the law of the land (it’s up to you to decide whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, I’m not my brother’s keeper on these things). What we do know is that this morning, the government of Peru published executive orders (15) that give environmental protection to the rivers that were the centre of the Azángaro people’s protest.