Gregorio Santos, president of the Cajamarca region, in a speech during a rally Tuesday, called on Peruvians to overthrow the Humala administration for supporting development of the $4.8 billion Minas Conga project, which will be the largest mining investment ever in Peru.
“What do we do when the president doesn’t keep his word?” Santos asked. The crowd of anti-mining protesters responded, “We get rid of him!”
“What do we do when the president doesn’t honor his commitments?” Santos yelled. “We get rid of him!” the crowd responded.
Protesters, who say thacrushing of gold ores in south africat Minas Conga will cause environmental damage, succeeded in stalling the project last year, forcing the government and owner Newmont Mining to suspend work to carry out new environmental studies.
Political analysts say there is little chance of a break in the democratic order in Peru, even as various anti-mining protests gain strength and turn violent. Still, the protests pose a significant challenge to Humala’s presidency, who took office nearly a year ago on a leftist platform and adopted center-right economic policies in one of the world’s leading producers of precious and base metals.
Members of the executive branch said the administration will remain firm in its market-friendly policies, and late Tuesday, the office of the president of Congress called on the nation’s chief prosecutor to charge Santos with inciting rebellion.
Chief prosecutor Jose Pelaez said in a broadcast interview Wednesday that there will be an investigation into Santos’ statements.
Santos said that he was merely expressing his opinion and hadn’t committed any crime. He also charged that the Humala administration wasn’t carrying out its campaign promises, including calling a constituent assembly to change the nation’s constitution.
In a Twitter message Tuesday, Humala defended his mining policies, saying, “We are going to carry out the grand transformation of Peru with a firm hand, persistence and without fear or abrupt decisions.”
Political analysts say that many of those on the left who supported Humala in the elections last year now feel betrayed by the government’s turn to the right.
Three left-leaning members of Humala’s Gana Peru coalition defected this week, saying they disagreed with the government’s economic policies and its support for mining.
“The conflicts could reproduce themselves in other zones,” said political analyst Santiago Pedraglio. “The president hasn’t explained why he changed his policies and many people who helped bring him to power feel betrayed.”
Observers add that Santos’ call for an insurrection is more likely a political strategy aimed at raising his profile as an “outsider.”
University of Lima political scientist Luis Benavente said that Santos is seen as likely to run for president in 2016 when Humala is barred by law from holding a second consecutive term.
Still, analysts are concerned that the anti-mining protests in Peru could snowball.
“The protests could escalate and have a domino effect. What Santos is trying to do is to create a power vacuum,” Benavente said, adding that presidents in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador captured power by running against the status quo and sometimes leading street protests.
The Humala administration has adopted a strategy of cracking down hard on violent anti-mining protests, while offering to negotiate with local authorities to find solutions to their demands.
So far about 14 people have been killed in various anti-government protests since the Humala administration took over.
Anti-mining activists in conjunction with some politicians in recent months have enveloped Peru in a series of often violent demonstrations against the mining sector, including against mining operations of Anglo-Swiss company Xstrata in southern Peru.
In a statement Wednesday, Newmont Mining said, “We believe dialogue and constructive engagement is the best and most productive way to address issues around mining investment and development. Last week more than 10,000 people came out to demonstrate that they want a future based on progress and development. Their voices also should be heard and are just as important.”