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The death of a Peruvian police officer

Early Monday morning, mineworkers at the Casapalca silver/zinc/lead/copper mine in central Peru started rolling rocks onto the main central highway (carretera central) in Peru, some 114km directly inland from the capital, Lima. When police arrived to try and break up the protest, the miners on the high ground above the highway threw more rocks at the police. Then some very large rocks were either dislodged by the stones thrown or dislodged by the miners. One rock weighing some 150kg to 200kg hit a policeman and killed him instantly. He was Captain Giuliano Villarreal Lobatón and was 32 years old. May he rest in peace.

Today, Peru’s media report the arrest of 17 miners related to the killing of the police officer. It also has Peru’s Minister of Work exhorting the miners to stop their strike. Less mentioned is how the miners at Casapalca came to be on strike and protesting in such a violent way.

Casapalca is run by the Peruvian Gubbins family, and has a long history of treating its workforce like slaves. In June last year this report highlighted how the workforce was made to work seven days a week for a basic monthly salary of 675 Soles. However even that low number is whittled down through various deductions and becomes 343 Soles (about U$110) in take home pay. To add insult to injury, the company then charges each of its workers between 100 and 150 soles per month for living quarters (and by that I mean 100 soles for a 2m X 2m shoebox just big enough for a bed).

The Casapalca case also made headlines last year for another round of deaths (both police and striking miners) after 35 workers were summarily dismissed by the Gubbins for having the nerve to form the first workers’ union ever seen inside company gates. The protest simmered on through to May 2008 when both sides finally signed a series of negotiated agreements.

So why the strike this month that spiralled into the death of another police officer on Monday? Simply because as soon as the workforce went back to work, the company refused to comply with the terms of the agreement signed in May 2008. They got them back to work and just ignored everything agreed and signed. Think of how factory owners in developed countries used to treat workers 200 years ago and you’re in the ballpark.

This is the investment grade Peru that foreign analysts line up to applaud. Total impunity for slave-drivers that are members of the Lima establishment family circles. Misery and slave labour for the common man. Monthsof inaction from governments, and then immediate clampdown on any sort of social protest that is then blamed on terrorists.

As for the mining companies that treat their workforce well? They are ignored. Gold Hawk Resources (CGK.v) are just 30km down the road from the people at Casapalca. The mine remains shut down due to government inaction on a simple permit. Meanwhile the laid off workers at CGK.v continue to support the company even though they can’t earn any money. Why? This from CGK’s IR department yesterday:

“Things continue to be positive locally in the San Mateo region. I think everyone would like to get back to work but hopefully remains patient as the permitting continues. On principle, we have ensured that anyone paid out was compensated as per law, no shortcuts, which had a significant cost in one way but was the right thing to do. Hopefully, the actions management has taken will be understood and have benefits in other ways down the road.”

Can you imagine what kind of stink would be caused if a foreign (read ‘gringo’) mining company paid its workforce U$110 per month for 336 hours of work? But as the owners of Casapalca are Peruvians and members of the Lima hoi-polloi, nothing is said for months on end. Then there’s trouble…then things are negotiated…then the hoi-polloi act as if nothing happened and continue with their slave labour attitude.

Hell, if you were one of those miners you’d lose patience after a while too, I’d wager. The death of the policeman is a terrible consequence and is rightly lamented by all, but you can only push hard men like miners so far. However, don’t expect the government of Alan García or the oligarchy it protects to admit responsibility to even a single drop of blood spilled on the tarmac of the Carretera Central just two days ago.

Viva investment grade. Viva viva viva

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