Peru Tension/Border Closures


A lot of you knew we were having a meeting in Puno, Peru, on Friday with Pastor Venancio who is a Methodist pastor in Peru and is in charge of the Lake Titicaca area for the Methodist Church. Many of you are also aware of the political tensions in the Puno area. We feel compelled to give an update on the situation in this area of Peru.

First we want to say that we had a very sucessful meeting with Pastor Venancio, who we are hoping will be assigned by Lima to the new Puno church. He has a wealth of ideas for financial independence of the church and its community, such as raising concha (pigs), cuy (guinea pigs, a local delicacy that fetches high prices in tourist resaurants), and gallinas (egg hens) on church property. He is also attuned to his community and is helping us shape which health issues the mission addresses. He specifically discussed the unattended health needs of the elderly.

The travels to and from Puno were uneventful. The bus trip took about an hour longer in the morning because about every 2 K for the first 50 k inside Peru, the bus had to go off road to go around the unattended blockades (road surfaces melted by fires, intentionally caused rock slides, felled trees, boulders, burning tires and barbed wire). By the evening return trip, paths had been cut or plowed trough the barriers so the trip was completed in normal time. Although the blockades had been lifted the day before, they are being left in place as the protestors may resume after Sunday's presidential election in Peru.

It seems that the protests in Peru are well founded. A Canadian mining corporation (Bear Creek) discovered a huge gold reserve under the mountains surrounding Puno. The Peruvian president pretty much signed over the rights of the local Aymaran population to allow Bear Creek to mine the gold. The mining company and the Peruvian government stand to profit considerably from this find. The local people (the Aymarans) are upset not only because they will never see any benefit financially, but because in extracting gold from the ore, mining companies use vast quantities of water in an area where water is scarce. Also, arsenic is used to leech the gold from the ore. In the past the government hasn't monitored the water being returned to Lago Titicaca and it's tributaries. This type of practice has left most water unusable not to mention the health problems it has inflicted on the local population.

The reason they are putting blockades at border crossings and major routes close to the borders, is to make a statement that this has been Aymaran land for over 1000 years, and that they are taking a stand against foreigners coming in and taking advantage of them, "their land" (though they don't participate or practice the concept of "ownership"), or pushing them aside. Their protests are an effort to pushback at a long line of profiteers -- first the Incas, then the Spanish, and now big business and what they feel are contrived governments.

Copacabana is only 8 K from the border. Because of that we appear to be getting an airshow thanks to Peru's elections tomorrow. We have never seen, or even heard, a plane since we left Cuzco, Peru. Three times today a huge 4-propeller Bolivian Air Force plane has been flying in between the mountains very low and out over the lake, where it appears to fly along the border. It then climbs a bit and heads off in the direction of LaPaz, probably to the El Alto air force base. Bolivia seems to be keeping an eye on the borders because a lot of commerce depends on them remaining open. However, Bolivia (especially indigenous Aymaran Bolivia, is very sympathetic to the protestors. Evo Morales, Bolivia's President, is Amaryan. He is the first-ever indigenous president. Bolivia now has 2 official flags because of him. One is the old familiar red, yellow and green. The other is the indigenous flag. A very colorful flag, rather like a patch-work quilt, representing every tribe in Bolivia. This link about Evo explains why Bolivia is sympathetic to the concerns of the indigenous in Peru.

All of this makes us think of the injustices in the world we studied in the Just Faith class we took at DGFUMC. Situations where the money and power of the "developed" world takes advantage of the voiceless poor - who in this case literally do not speak a language of business. We feel grateful that we are making an effort to learn Aymaran. Speaking even a little is greeted with big, incredulous smiles and an attempt to teach you more. It is a great way to learn and make friends. The Aymara are very friendly to us and tourists. They are distressed with the Peruvian government and want to be recognized as people who have rights so they are taking a stand.

Sunday's presidential election in Peru will be interesting, and depending on who gets elected, the protest may resume. Yes, this may cut into our ability to travel to Peru at will. No, it won't stop the work Mision Fronteras will do in Peru. We just need to stay informed and plan accordingly. Every day we have been reading on-line versions of both La Razon - LaPaz's largest newspaper, and La Republica - Lima, Peru's largest newspaper. We also get a lot of information from talking to locals.

Sorry for the length of this. We just want to keep you posted, especially in case the border closures have made international news -- no need to worry about us; we are safe, happy, and able to work on our projects!

One more piece of information: Currently there are 5 teams in the process of planning a working trip down to Mision Fronteras. If you have are interested in forming a team or joining an existing team, please drop us an e-mail.

Jeff and Deb

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