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ROME – After at least 14 people were killed in a mining dispute in the Andean region of Arequipa, Peru’s bishops have assured the victims of their prayers and have urged local authorities to step up their efforts in preventing further violence.
According to local authorities, the confrontation occurred between June 1-2 in Arequipa, which is located roughly 621 miles from Lima, the capital city.
Half of the 14 bodies discovered were found in an area known as Catarata, in Atico, which is located within the Intigold Mining concession, and the other seven were found in an area called Huanaquita.
Some 31 people have been arrested in connection with the incident, with police confiscating firearms, ammunition, and bulletproof vests.
Initially authorities believed the dispute erupted between legal and illegal, or “informal,” miners, who must operate within legal regulations. However, authorities have since concluded that the dispute took place between miners working for two different companies.
According to local media, the clashes were sparked by a dispute over a gold and copper deposit that both groups laid claim to in the Huanaquita area.
Disputes over gold and copper deposits are nothing new in the area. However, it is believed that this is the first instance in which deaths have been recorded amid these disagreements.
Authorities said they believe a criminal organization was involved and hired professional personnel to conduct an eviction of miners that turned violent.
Facing pressure over their failure to act in time to stop the violence, local police said they did not initially realize a violent dispute was happening due to the remote area in which the confrontation took place.
This type of incident between miners is frequent in remote areas of Peru, where the presence of state authorities is sparse.
In a June 8 statement, the Peruvian bishops’ conference expressed their “profound closeness and solidarity with the families of the wounded and our condolences for those who have died.”
“It is concerning,” they said, that the clashes “were not identified and addressed in time by government organisms and regional authorities.”
“Just as we should not allow the contamination of our biodiversity and the threat to our ‘Common Home,’ also by mining that acts without respecting nature and the law, with greater reason we should not allow the promotion of any form of violence, even more so if it threatens human life and dignity,” they said.
The bishops urged Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, Peru’s congress, and other government bodies “to act quickly and effectively to address this problem in a comprehensive manner” so that there is no further loss of life.
“Let us remember that all human life is sacred,” they said.
Mining is one of Peru’s largest industries, with the country containing roughly 8.7 percent of the world’s copper reserves, 3.7 percent of its gold, and 22.6 percent of its silver. Peru currently ranks third in global copper production, second in silver production, and sixth in gold production.
Disputes among different companies is not uncommon, as several large companies employing thousands of workers operate in the country.
However, in the country’s vast, remote areas of the highlands and Amazon Rainforest, these companies are often exploited by small legal and illegal miners, who operate beyond the state’s control due to the isolated nature of the places where they work.
In addition to these rural disputes, large companies also face conflict.
Currently the Las Bambas copper mine, located in the Andean region of Apurímac and operated by the Chinese company MMG, has had production halted for 50 days due to attacks on its facilities and personnel amid peasant-led protests in the area.
Las Bambas represents almost 15 percent of Peru’s copper production, and the halt in its production affects some 8,000 workers and has resulted in a loss of roughly 9.5 million dollars in exports a day, according to the National Mining Society.
Pope Francis has also spoken about the need for a greater sense of ethics in mining and has chastised companies that exploit the earth’s resources while disregarding the rights of the people who live on the land being mined.
Speaking to participants in a two-day conference on mining in 2019, the pope said mining, like all economic activities, “should be at the service of the entire human community,” especially Indigenous communities who inhabit rural areas.
The mining industry, he said, must ensure that their activities lead “to the integral human development of each and every person” and “should be at the service of the human person and not vice versa.”
“Attention for the safety and well-being of the people involved in mining operations as well as the respect for fundamental human rights of the members of local communities and those who champion their causes are indeed non-negotiable principles,” the pope said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen