Confrontation in Junin

By , August 26, 2004
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This past Monday, 22 August, Ascendant Exploration, with close to 100 paid machete-yielding workers from communities far from the mining area, tried to forcibly bring in their machinery to work on road maintenance, against the wishes of the 3 communities most likely to be affected by the Junin mining project in this area. The workers came from other communities, and had machetes, supposedly to help work on the road, and we have reports they were each paid $40 per day; about 5-6 times more than the normal daily wage.

The confrontation took place on a narrow stretch of road between the area known as Loma Negra and the community of Chalguyacu Alto, relatively close to Junin. Three truckloads with about 80 people from Junin and nearby communities met Ascendant’s paid workers and forced a standoff. Polibio Perez, the president of the Community Development Council was the first to arrive, and the first to be subjected to verbal and physical abuse. The physical abused immediately ended as soon as the Junin delegation arrived, but the death threats and verbal abused continued. At one point, according to reports, several armed (with hand guns) bodyguards of Ronald Andrade, an ex-congressman previously investigated for corruption, threatened Mr Perez, but a group of women yielding rebarbs stepped up to protect the community leader, saying they would kill the bodyguards if they so much as touched Mr. Perez. Mr. Andrade threatened Polibio in several occasions during the confrontation.

The tense confrontation ended peacefully. In order to avoid a bloody confrontation between neighbors, it was accepted that only the affected communities would meet this Friday to definitely decide what to do. Until then, the machinery was allowed to continue working on the section of the road they were on. However, a few hours after the arrangement, Mr. Andrade with several of his bodyguards, tried to intimidate Polibio Pérez by stopping in front of his house in his car, then going to a river a few meters away from his hous and shooting their guns. Polibio’s wife and kids were in the house at the time of the shooting, but no one was hurt, nor was the house hit. A clear case of intimidation.

A person identifying himself as Captain Nelson Moreno, employee of Ascendant Exploration and leader Ascendant’s group of thugs, threatened the community delegation, and said the company had sent in their road machinery to speed up the mining project. In a previous meeting, the main person representing Ascendant in Intag had offered to maintain community roads without strings attached, but many people considered it was done in exchange for support for the mining project- the offer that was rejected by most of the communities, but accepted by some.

The road is a sensitive issue, which the company is shamelessly using to gather support and divide the opposition. Most people in the area want, and need better roads so they can take their products to market. However, the company’s actions are rejected by more and more people, who are seeing through their hypocrisy. In a meeting in Junin earlier in the month, it was agreed they would pursue the road issue with the provincial government, so as not to rely on the company. This was accepted by teh provincial government, but 3 days later, it was when company came with their equipment and paid goons.

As it stands now, there will be another meeting tomorrow, friday, with only the boards of the most affected communities (affected by the road), to see what comes of it. Apparently, retired army general Cesar Villacís (Community liason for Ascendant), will come to the meeting. Villacis has ties with military intelligence.

The communities will likely accept the machinery with some strict conditions . One of those will be that the work not be attached to any mining activities or to the communities accepting the mining project, and that it be done within a certain timeline, and then they LEAVE; conditions Ascendant is not likely to accept, or to respect if accepted. Junin has rejected altogether the machines on their section of the road, and so have the other 3 communities most likely to be affected by the mining project (Cerro Pelado, Barcelona and El Triunfo). I can’t foresee they’ll change position. Junin will rely on help from the provincial government if the other communities in the area (Chalguayacu Bajo; Alto, and Chontal) give in. However, in a time of election campaign, sometimes these very rural communities are forgotten and help given to the more populated areas. DECOIN, needless to say, will continue helping the Community Development Council and the communities opposed to the mining project, and any kind of "help" offered by the mining company.

In a more general context, Ascendant is getting a bit desperate and taken to going to other communities and parish governments, and schools to get support- way out of the area of Junin, where they have failed to get the support they need. They are offering to put in a university, computers in high-schools, funding town parties, and so on and on. In the case of the Apuela high school, they just told the headmaster to "submit to them anything they wanted", and that Ascendant would pay for it. Luckily the principal was warned to first hold a meeting with the parents. In that meeting most of the parents rejected the offer. It was agreed that the high school would hold a public debate between Decoin and Ascendant so the parents and public be better informed on the issue before they make a final decision.

We are looking forward to it.

Carlos Zorrilla

Executive Director

DECOIN

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