Communities in Peru vote against Río Blanco

Communities in Peru vote against Río Blanco

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September 21, 2007

A popular referendum was held in Peru on Sunday to vote on the future of the Río Blanco mining project. The project, which was up until recently owned by the London-based mining company Monterrico Metals, has already shown to have caused damages in the area of development. Local communities say it is a threat to the rivers which they depend on, and that the company itself has been operating illegally on their community-owned lands.

More than 31,000 people showed up to participate in the referendum. The outcome–reminiscent of another referendum held in 2002 about a mining operation owned by Canada’s Manhattan Minerals– on Sunday, 95% of the people voted a resounding NO to Río Blanco

The government is not satisfied or impressed. In fact, they’ve been trying to criminalize and altogether ignore this initiative.

Peasant organizations are demanding the government respect the results of the referendum.

From Upside down World – While the campesinos (mainly indigenous country people) in Piura flocked to the polling stations in the three towns, García asked the public “Are we going to let misinformation and ideological manipulation stand in the way of the country’s progress? What do we Peruvians want? To stay where we are, or to grow?”

The García administration argues that the organisers of the referendum are undermining the country, given that the mining industry is the backbone of the economy, accounting for 60 percent of income tax, and with 11 billion dollars in new projects in the pipeline.

Peru is the world’s second biggest producer of silver, the third of copper and zinc, the fourth of lead, and the fifth of gold.

With minerals prices booming, the government is keen on taking full advantage of the moment.

“The government is desperate to keep up the economic growth figures based on mining,” economist José de Echave, director of Cooperacción, a local non-governmental organisation, told IPS. The NGO was one of the groups that helped organise the popular referendum.

More than 22 international observers from NGOs in Ecuador, Bolivia, Spain, Germany, Britain, Canada and Switzerland took part in the process.

Ralph Hoelmer of the Network Institute for Global Democratisation said in Ayabaca that the referendum is entirely legitimate. “This is a good thing because it allows people to express their views on their own destiny. These democratising processes are rare in the world,” he added.


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