Two years ago, they were mango farmers. Now they are anti-globalization activists. The farmers of Tambogrande, Peru have become reluctant anti-globalization activists as they try to stop Vancouver's Manhattan Minerals from turning their town and their farms into a series of open-pit mines.
The Vancouver company went to Peru in search of gold and found it - directly under this town of 25,000 residents and their farms. No problem say the Canadians, they will just relocate 16,000 of the locals and not to worry. Mining and agriculture can co-exist.
The company is not known for is diplomacy. What Manhattan Minerals calls an "undeveloped copper and gold deposit" these Peruvians call home - and they don't want to be told to move. When the company began exploratory drilling, the miners actually set-up six drill rigs right in the streets of Tambogrande. In Canada, this would be equivalent to drilling in the streets of Quesnel, Port Alberni or Whitehorse - all similar-sized cities, with churches, schools, shops and homes.
Since the arrival of the Canadian miners, the Peruvian farmers have said No to the drilling and No to the planned relocation of their 200-year-old town.
When diplomacy failed, the quiet town of Tambogrande began to resemble the protests of Seattle, Prague and Quebec City. In February, locals held a two-day strike, with over 5,000 demonstrators mobilizing against Manhattan Minerals. The residents erected roadblocks on all routes in and out of the company's base of activities. Then 250 demonstrators took direct action against the mining company, storming the walls of its compound. Over two nights they burned down the company's offices, their equipment and the despised display homes. Three-hundred members of the National Police of Peru tear gassed the protesters, but eventually the officers had to withdraw.
A month later, on March 31, Godofredo Garcia was shot dead by a masked gunman. He was a passionate opponent of the Canadian mine. The murder has re-ignited the call for Canadians to immediately leave Tambogrande. Locals are obviously intimidated by what they call the assassination of this outspoken critic of Manhattan Minerals. "Everyone (in the Defence Front) has been threatened, and we are followed when we go to work in the fields or give interviews to the press," fellow activist Francisco Ojeda told a Toronto reporter.
Back in Vancouver, the president of Manhattan Minerals, Graham Clow, makes the grand statement that, "If the people of Tambogrande don't want to move, there obviously won't be a mine. Nobody is going to make anybody move here. That's not in the cards." Then Clow dismisses the years of opposition and violence as "the opinion of a small group of activists."
Alfredo Rengifo, the mayor of Tambogrande, has in fact collected 28,000 signatures from Tambogrande's 36,000 eligible voters on a petition calling for Manhattan's immediate departure. He hasn't finished collecting signatures yet. The Catholic Church's local bishops, Oscar Cantuarias and Daniel Turley, have requested, "The company Manhattan Sechura immediately leave Tambogrande to restore calm and peace among our people." Even the Canadian business press concedes that "from the day Manhattan contractors hauled their own test drill rigs into Tambogrande in mid-1999, the company has encountered deep mistrust and violent opposition," as reported February in Canadian Business.
As Manhattan Minerals continues its work in Tambogrande, the Canadian government turns a blind eye to the planned destruction of a town and the violence related to the Canadians in Peru.
None of this seems exceptional to our federal government. Manhattan's president, Graham Clow, is after all part of Team Canada. A few years ago, Ralph Goodale, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources, took Clow and other Canadians on a Team Canada trade and investment mission in Peru, Chile and Argentina so that the federal government could aid in the establishment of projects like this.
Goodale likes to say that Canadian mining companies need a social licence to operate outside of Canada, that "when Canadian mining companies work abroad, they must bring their codes of conduct with them." It is great to have a government that talks of high standards for Canadian corporations. But how will he see that these standards are met?
Bruce Wallace is a Victoria-based researcher who works for the Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group (VIPIRG). He has been an anti-poverty activist since the Mulroney years, establishing a street-community association and street newspaper in Victoria. Most recently, Wallace released the report Brushed Aside: Poverty and Dental Care in Victoria. He also volunteers with the Movie Monday Society, where he helps organize the annual Reel Madness Film Festival: Films and discussions about mental illness and recovery. Wallace has published articles in both the alternative and mainstream press, including Canadian Dimension, Briarpatch, Mothering magazine, Canadian Living and Western Living.
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