Peru industrial pollution feeds conflict
LIMA, Dec. 7 (UPI) — Peru’s industrial progress is proving costlier than expected as protests widen over industrial pollution, contamination of underground water resources and lead poisoning. Peru depends on exports of minerals and other raw materials, including gold, and has drawn many international investors to its untapped natural resources, with support from President Ollanta Humala’s administration. More investors want to work with Peru but are deterred by protests by rural groups and environmentalist campaigners, published economic data indicated.
More than 19 people have died in disputes over natural resources since Humala assumed office in July 2011. Peruvian and international advocacy groups cited more than 200 cases of potentially lethal pollution caused by mining and other industrial activities. A World Health Organization-backed study compared lead contamination levels in the soil in and around two mining areas in Peru, one of the world’s top producers of silver, copper, gold, zinc and lead. Dangerously high levels of lead were found in the soil of Cerro de Pasco, a historic Andean mining town, where copper mining continues. The pollution levels were lower in Huaral, which has a modern mine and ore processing plant. Talks called by the Organization of American States in Lima this week looked into measures to ease popular unrest over adverse social and environmental impact of controversial mining activities.
Peru’s frequent spats with advocacy groups who oppose largely unregulated mining figured at a two-day meeting of experts invited by the OAS to “discuss management of socio-environmental conflict for the countries of Central America and the Andean Region.” Peruvian unrest over the effect of mining and deforestation on the environment dates back three administrations. Both former Presidents Alejandro Toledo and Alan Garcia had to deal with frequent protests, leading to deaths and injuries on both sides. Armed government forces often found themselves confronting indigenous campaigners armed with spears and arrows.
Strikes raise tensions in volatile Tunisia regions
SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia — Strikes and protests hit volatile areas of Tunisia on Thursday, including Sidi Bouzid where the Arab Spring began, as tensions rose between powerful unions and the ruling Islamist party. Workers went on strike in Kasserine, Gafsa and Sfax, whose eponymous capital is Tunisia’s second city, as well as Sidi Bouzid, where the uprising started on December 17, 2010 that unseated former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The closure of the largest private and public employers in those areas was called by regional branches of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), AFP journalists reported, with only small shops and cafes open for business. Hundreds of protesters also marched in the Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid regions, chanting slogans denouncing the Islamist party.
“We demand the resignation of the government,” “Ennahda has sold Tunisia,” and “Long live the UGTT, the country’s biggest force,” the activists shouted. The UGTT, Tunisia’s main labour union, which has a membership of 500,000, said the strike achieved a 95-percent observance rate in Gafsa, a mining region prone to social unrest. The action was seen as a prelude to a nationwide general strike called for December 13 by the UGTT to denounce an attack on its headquarters this week that it says was carried out by Islamist militants close to the ruling party Ennahda.
Weeks of escalating tensions between the union and Ennahda, seen as the two dominant political forces in Tunisia, culminated on Tuesday when UGTT members demonstrating at their head office were attacked by pro-government activists. The Islamists in turn accused the UGTT of orchestrating the confrontation. The General Tunisian Confederation of Workers, a trade union formed after the revolution and claiming some 50,000 members, said on Thursday it was in “full solidarity” with the larger organisation. It denounced “all the hostile actions against the UGTT,” and condemned those behind them, urging Ennahda to respect “trade union freedoms.”
Last week, intense clashes between police and disaffected youths in the town of Siliana, southwest of Tunis, left some 300 people wounded, after a strike and protests over poor living conditions degenerated into violence. The call for a nationwide strike next Thursday is only the third by the UGTT since its foundation in the 1940s. The first was in 1978 and the second on January 12, 2011 — two days before the fall of Ben Ali’s regime.
Chileans protest over foul-smelling pig plant
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Chilean protesters have clashed with riot police in the country’s north over the re-opening of a foul-smelling pig processing plant. The Freirina plant in the Atacama region is one of Latin America’s largest meat processing plants. Many pigs starved to death in May when residents of the town of Freirina blocked access to the plant because of the smell. The plant’s recent re-opening has set off new protests.
In Thursday’s clash, hooded demonstrators set up barricades and threw rocks at police. Police say demonstrators also burned a security booth and a car. At least three people are reported injured and eight have been arrested.