Environment, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

PERU: UN Mission Probes Private Security Groups

Ángel Páez

LIMA, Feb 7 2007 (IPS) - A priest who provides support for Peruvian farmers in their conflict with a transnational gold mining corporation complained to a United Nations mission that he was under surveillance by a private security company.

Chaired by Colombian expert Amada Benavides, the U.N. working group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the rights of peoples to self-determination visited Peru from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 as part of its mandate to investigate security firms that recruit mercenaries and violate human rights.

The working group gathered information on more than 1,000 former members of the Peruvian military and police hired by private security companies which offered them contracts that do not comply with international standards, and sent them to Iraq and Afghanistan.

It also investigated the case of Father Marco Antonio Arana, a Catholic priest who heads a grassroots human rights and environmental movement. Arana has reported harassment by the Forza company, contracted by the powerful Yanacocha mining corporation, which operates one of the world’s biggest gold mines in the northwestern Peruvian region of Cajamarca.

Just over half of the shares in Yanacocha are owned by the Newmont Mining Corporation of Denver, Colorado – the world’s largest gold mining company – and nearly 44 percent are owned by the Peruvian mining firm Compañia de Minas Buenaventura S.A. Production at Yanacocha began in late 1993.

In the impoverished Andean region of Cajamarca, Arana leads the Training and Intervention Group for Sustainable Development (GRUFIDES), an Oxfam partner organisation that provides advice and support to rural communities in conflicts with the mining company over pollution and violations of indigenous rights.

Arana himself won the top Peruvian human rights prize in 2004, awarded by the National Coordinator of Human Rights, an umbrella group of human rights organisations. And in 2005, he was a finalist for the environmental award bestowed by the Condé Nast Traveler, a prominent international travel magazine, for his efforts to prevent mining exploration on Cerro Quilish, near the city of Cajamarca.

On Nov. 14, after visiting his mother in Cajamarca, Arana noticed that a young man was filming him. He chased him down with a car, caught him, and turned him over to the police.

On his camcorder, Miguel Ángel Saldaña, 23, had several days of recordings of the comings and goings of Arana and other GRUFIDES activists. When the police searched Saldaña’s office, they found dozens of surveillance videos, photographs and reports on Arana, part of a surveillance operation called “Operación El Diablo” (the devil).

Also targeted were activists in the Unified Front for the Defence of Life, the Environment and the Interests of Cajamarca, as well as local community leaders.

“In the office that was searched by the authorities, we found photos of everyone who works in GRUFIDES, several local priests, and campesino (peasant) and community leaders,” Arana told IPS in an interview in Cajamarca.

Saldaña told the police that he worked for the company C&G Investigaciones, whose owner, César Cáceres, a former police captain who was kicked off the force, denied any involvement in the surveillance and alleged that the material confiscated was part of work being done for an unspecified media outlet.

The documents seized by the authorities in Cajamarca included reports addressed to someone using the alias “Pato” – which happens to be the code name for Forza operations manager Aldo Schwarz.

Also among the documents was a receipt for a payment to a C&G Investigaciones agent, signed by Schwarz.

But Forza denied any link to “Operación El Diablo” or to C&G Investigaciones.

“The evidence shows that Forza had something to do with the spying,” said Arana. “An infrastructure of agents, camcorders, cameras and computer networks is costly. Forza has that capacity in Cajamarca, and works for Yanacocha.”

The chair of the U.N. working group, Benavides, told IPS that “We are worried about the involvement of security companies in cases of intimidation of defenders of environmental rights and in conflicts between the local population and mining companies.”

In August 2006, local residents from the town of Combayo clashed with Yanacocha because the company had begun to mine in the area without prior, informed consent from local campesinos, who were protesting pollution of their water supplies and the forced acquisition of their land.

When the protesters brought the mine’s activities to a halt, the company sent in around 100 Forza employees to forcibly remove the roadblock, and a local campesino, Isidro Llanos Cavaría, was shot and killed Aug. 2 in a violent clash with Forza security guards.

During the investigation of the incident, three police officers were identified as having opened fire on the protesters. That day, all three officers were off-duty. But they were working for Yanacocha, although it has not yet been determined whether they were directly hired by the mining company or by Forza.

“Yanacocha did not contract Forza to engage in spying,” a source with the mining company, who asked not to be identified by name, told IPS. “Forza is not authorised to carry out this kind of action, to which we are opposed. If it has done so, then it has acted on its own, and not on Yanacocha’s orders.”

Forza was founded in 1991 by former Peruvian Navy officers. On its web site, it states that its clients includeYanacocha, Newmont itself, and the powerful National Mining, Oil and Energy Association (SNMP), which represents the big mining companies.

Wilson Gómez Barrios, a graduate of the naval school of Peru, is general manager at Forza, and is also the head of the Sociedad Nacional de Seguridad (National Security Association), a member of the National Confederation of Private Business Institutions.

Spanish expert José Luis Gómez del Prado, a member of the U.N. working group, told IPS that “in the case of Father Arana, there have been threats and harassment by a private security company, and Forza is apparently involved.”

“Forza works for Yanacocha, and Yanacocha is in conflict with the campesinos of Cajamarca,” who “receive advice and support from Father Arana. So here we see a link. What worries us is that the state’s monopoly over the use of force has begun to be yielded to private security companies. Regulations are needed here,” said Gómez del Prado.

“But this is not only happening in Peru,” he added. “We have seen this kind of thing in many countries around the world. The monopoly over the use of force is being increasingly ceded, de facto, to private companies.”

Gómez del Prado also said the U.N. mission was conducting an in-depth investigation into whether Forza met the international standards established for private companies that provide services in conflict zones. “Our first reading of the situation is that it does not,” he said.

In an October 2005 article, IPS reported that former members of the military and police were being hired in Peru to provide “security services” in the most dangerous conflict areas in Iraq and Afghanistan, often in poor working and living conditions. That information was among the sources used by the U.N. mission in its investigation in Peru.

During its visit to Lima, the working group met with Forza executives, headed by Gómez Barrios, who denied that they had violated the rights of campesinos and stated that they had nothing to do with “Operación El Diablo”.

The prosecutors investigating the surveillance of Arana shelved the case in late January on grounds of “lack of evidence.”

Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo criticised the prosecutor’s office for failing to identify those responsible for “Operación El Diablo”.

“This sets a dark precedent for Peruvian justice,” he warned.

Forza’s relationship with its client, the SNMP, “is very important,” according to Arana. The association of mining companies “pressured Canadian Lutheran World Relief to withdraw aid from environmental groups in Cajamarca, because the groups supposedly threatened investments by the mining industry,” said the priest.

“They cancelled funds last year. We are facing an extraordinary power that not only uses money but uses force as well. Several environmental organisations have disappeared because of the withdrawal of funds,” Arana added.

GRUFIDES has been able to continue its work in Cajamarca thanks to support from the German Catholic development agency, Misereor.

On Nov. 22, 2006, the London-based Amnesty International issued an urgent action alert titled “Peru: Fear for Safety”, warning that Arana and GRUFIDES Executive Director Mirtha Vasquez Chuquilin “have received repeated death threats and have been followed and filmed both at work and at home. The threats and harassment appear to be directly linked to their work” for GRUFIDES.

“Their lives, and those of others associated with GRUFIDES, may be in danger,” added the rights watchdog.

What side is God on in this conflict? IPS asked Arana. “He is not on the side of the gold, because He is a God of the poor,” the priest responded.

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