LIMA (Reuters) – Hundreds of miners blocked a stretch of Peru’s Interoceanic Highway near the border with Brazil on Friday, after a clash between police and protesters the day before left at least one dead and more than a dozen injured.
The protest in the Amazonian region of Madre de Dios began in response to alleged abuses committed by police officers during an operation against illegal mining Thursday in the Tambopata natural reserve.
Representatives from Peru’s autonomous Ombudsman’s office said that at least one person died and 13 were injured in clashes with the police, who reportedly called in army reinforcements to quell the disturbances.
The clashes come as the world’s second largest copper producer faces a wave of social conflicts in the mining sector, which already have paralyzed important operations this year, including the Las Bambas deposit of the Chinese miner MMG Ltd earlier this year.
Illegal mining has also been the source of serious unrest and violence in the interior of the Andean nation. Local industry estimates that around 10% to 15% of Peru’s gold production comes from artisanal or informal miners, mostly in remote and poor areas.
“At this moment the demonstrators have again blocked the Interoceanic Highway at kilometer 108 and 100 in Madre de Dios (…) there are about 1,000 people who are protesting,” Guimo Loayza, representative of the Ombudsman’s office in Madre de Dios, told Reuters. The highway connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, going through Peru and Brazil.
Protesters burned tires and attacked on Thursday a temporary military base housing members of the army, the Ombudsman’s Office said, in reaction to unconfirmed reports that police sexually abused and injured people in the operation against the illegal mine on Wednesday.
The operation destroyed or seized 45 suction motors used by illegal miners to extract gold-bearing soil from rivers, as well as 21 artisanal rafts in the Tambopata reserve, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Neither the prosecutor’s office nor the National Police responded to a request for comment about Friday’s incidents.
(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Additional reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Alistair Bell)