Peru is rich in natural resources—minerals and metals, oil, and forests. Resource extraction (exploiting these natural riches for profit) is an enormous industry in the country. The process has generated a lot of money, but it has harmed countless communities and local environments.
When English mining company Monterrico Metal hoped to develop the country’s second largest copper mine in Rio Blanco, an area in the northern end of the Peruvian gold-copper belt, local farmers and community members were on high alert. They feared the environmental destruction such mines bring with them, so they took the lead to protect their families and homes.
In 2005, members from local communities converged in peaceful protest of the mine. Twenty-eight protesters were arrested by local police and detained for 3 days at the mine, where they claim to have been tortured by the mining company’s security guards. The torturous three days included bags put over their heads, hands tied behind their backs, beatings, and even shootings. Two protesters were shot in their legs, another was shot in the eye, and another, Melanio Garcia, was killed. Another two protesters were sexually assaulted.
Violent attacks and intimidation against community members continued for up to a year after the initial event.
Abu Ghraib-type photos of the torture surfaced in 2009, and Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC) introduced the protestors to a London law firm that represents victims of human rights violations. The firm took up their case and took it to court, fighting on behalf of the communities near Rio Blanco.
After years of preparing for the trial and a British court ruling that determined the events in 2005 were “part of a larger strategy of intimidation and violence directed against mine opponents,” the communities had an enormous breakthrough:
A confidential settlement was reached with the victims, and they will receive payments as compensation. The case marks the first time a European company has been sued for torture.
Global Greengrants has funded projects surrounding the Rio Blanco mine and the company’s harassment of protestors, including grants to Documental Peruano to create a film entitled Operación Diablo (The Devil Operation), which featured the torture situation.