July 5th, 2012
"Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison." Henry David Thoreau
This July 4th, while executives of Colorado's Newmont Mining Corporation celebrated America's Independence Day, a priest was beaten and detained by police for protesting an expansion plan at the company's Peruvian mine.
Father Marco Arana was sitting peacefully on a bench in the city's main square when about 30 police commandos approached and pushed him to the ground. Videos and photos taken on the scene show police punching and kicking the priest, hitting him with clubs and dragging him off by the neck. Surrounded by a squadron of officers in riot gear, the renowned environmentalist was taken to a police station where he was again beaten and refused communication with his lawyer for several hours.
The incident brought to mind Thoreau's famous phrase, written 170 years ago, when the father of Civil Disobedience went to jail to protest slavery.
Today's 'just men' (and women) are still being thrown behind bars, but they've picked up a few new tools of the trade. Marco managed to send a Twitter message from inside the station before contact was cut off and the news of his assault quickly circled the globe. Lawyers from human rights organizations intervened on his behalf, and Marco was released 13 hours later.
His departure from the station was delayed somewhat, because - true to form - Marco refused to leave until police also released 8 people who were arrested for trying to help him.
Marco is now receiving medical care for his injuries, including a broken jaw, internal bleeding and a head wound.
Why did this happen?
A month ago, Father Marco and other regional leaders in the state of Cajamarca declared an indefinite strike against the proposed 'Minas Congas' gold mining project, which would destroy 4 sacred lakes.
On July 3rd, the evening before Marco was attacked, Peru's government declared a state of emergency in the region, suspending civil liberties. The pronouncement came shortly after a violent encounter between police and protesters that resulted in the death of 4 civilians, including a 17-year-old boy and at least 36 wounded. Two days later a fifth person was killed during a clash with police.
Since the conflict exploded last year, over 100 leaders, including Marco Arana, have been charged under Peru's draconian criminalization of social protest laws.
'Minas Congas' is a massive expansion project owned by Yanacocha, South America's largest gold mine, located in Cajamarca province. Yanacocha is controlled by Newmont of Colorado and Peru's Buenaventura with minority shares held by the World Bank. Farming communities accuse Yanacocha of contaminating their water supply and the mine was responsible for a mercury spill that poisoned over 900 people -- the focus of a documentary I co-directed with Peruvian film maker Ernesto Cabellos: www.guarango.org/choropampa
Ernesto and I met Father Marco during the filming of 'The Price of Gold' 12 years ago. In the aftermath of the spill, Marco visited the affected villages and published the first independent study on the devastating impacts. But he insisted on remaining behind the scenes and doesn't appear in the film. "The farmers are the real heroes of this story," he told us.
Over the years, Marco and his group of young activists known as GRUFIDES continued their defense of farming communities affected by the mine and we kept filming them and helping out with media advocacy and training. In 2004, Marco was awarded Peru's most prestigious human rights award and in 2009 he was declared an 'Environmental Hero' by TIME magazine.
Marco's defense of farming and indigenous communities has also earned him powerful enemies. In 2006, he and other Peruvian activists were victims of a spy-ring called 'The Devil Operation'. One of Marco's farming allies was assassinated and the priest and other activists were harassed, photographed and filmed.
Determined not to be victims, the activists launched a counter-espionage campaign and obtained valuable evidence that became the basis for 'The Devil Operation.' This real-life suspense documentary has won 5 international awards, including the 'International Human Rights Film Award' sponsored by Amnesty International and given by the Cinema for Peace Foundation at an event parallel to the Berlin film festival.
In solidarity with Marco during this new assault on his safety and liberty, we have put 'The Devil Operation' on YOUTUBE, and hope you will help us spread the word.
You can also sign the petition against the Minas Congas project at Avaaz: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop...
Director/Producer 'The Devil Operation'
Asociación Guarango Cine y Vídeo
DVDs, Press kit, photos and guide for educators and activists available at: www.guarango.org/diablo