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Aymara Indians Put Protests on Hold but Remain Defiant

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Last weekend, Puno, Peru, was rocked when more than ten thousand activists, largely Aymara Indians, blocked roads and sacked government buildings in protest of a silver mine planned by the Canadian firm Bear Creek Mining Corporation.

Puno is located on Lake Titicaca, and the mine's opponents fear the contamination of the lake. According to a May 30 AFP report, protests began on the Peru-Bolivia border; on May 24 the protesters took the town of Puno and blockaded all roads in and out.

On May 27, violence broke out in Puno; three government buildings were looted and another was set ablaze.

The demonstrators say they want nothing less than revocation of the deal with Bear Creek Mining Corporation. "We ask that the Santa Ana's concession under Supreme Decree 083 be annulled," protestor Daniel Yujra Quispe told a interviewer. "We are also asking for all mining concessions to be taken away because we are a fishing and farming zone and we live from cattle."

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For a moment, it appeared a deal for a 12-month freeze on all regional mining activity had been negotiated. But protestors rejected it. "We reject that agreement because it is not what the people want," protest leader Walter Aduviri told AFP. He said that halting the Bear Creek Mining Corporation project "has not been achieved, so the protests will continue."

Some observers worried that the protests would adversely affect the national politics in Peru, where a presidential run-off vote is set to occur on June 5. Conservative Keiko Fujimori (daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori) is running a dead heat against leftist populist Ollanta Humala. The poor, indigenous highland population largely supports Humala; an indefinite standoff in Puno would lose votes for the protestors' own candidate.

Aduviri confirmed the scenario in no uncertain terms, telling AFP that "in Puno there will be no second-round elections between Keiko Fujimori and Ollanta Humala."

Then, on May 31, protestors announced they would suspend their activities until after the election. According to a June 1 AFP report, Aduviri said his followers were doing so "with the sole objective of not undermining the electoral process," and added a stern warning. Starting Tuesday, he said, "any person who has no business being on our land is strictly forbidden to enter Aymara territory." He specified "all pickup trucks and vans belonging to the transnationals."

Whether Aduviri is seriously promising an escalation of resistance against foreign mining concerns or merely seeking to give teeth to the postponement announcement remains to be seen.