Marco Arana beaten and detained by Peruvian police

By 05 July, 2012

Earlier today in Cajamarca, Peru, renowned environmentalist Father Marco Arana was beaten and arrested by a dozen police officers while sitting peacefully on a bench in the city’s main square. Videos and photos taken on the scene show police forcing Marco to the ground and dragging him off by the neck. Surrounded by a squadron of riot police, Marco was taken to the central police station where he was again beaten and refused communication with his lawyer.

Marco managed to send this Twitter message from inside the station: “They detained me and they beat me a lot. Inside the station they continued to beat me, punches in my face, kidneys, insults.” (Marco is recovering from a serious bout of pneumonia and has suffered kidney stones and kidney infections for over a year).

Father Marco and other regional leaders have declared an indefinite state-wide strike against the proposed ‘Minas Congas’ gold mining project, which would destroy 4 sacred lakes in the province of Celendin. Last night Peru’s government declared a state of emergency in the region, suspending civil liberties, after 3 protesters were killed and at least 20 people wounded during a violent encounter with police.

‘Minas Congas’ is a massive expansion project owned by Yanacocha, South America’s largest gold mine, located in Cajamarca province. Yanacocha is owned 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 our first film: Choropampa, The Price of Gold.

We met Father Marco during the filming of Choropampa, 12 years ago. In the immediate aftermath of the spill, he visited the affected villages and published the first independent study on the devastating impacts. But Marco 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 were honoured to film them in their labours. In 2004, Marco was awarded Peru’s most prestigious human rights award and in 2009 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 main farming allies was assassinated and Marco and other activists were harassed, photographed and video-taped.

Determined not to be victims, the activists launched a counter-espionage campaign, and captured two of the spies, along with photos, videos and detailed reports of the operation.

This evidence became the basis for The Devil Operation, a real-life suspense documentary that has won multiple 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.

Infinity humble, Marco didn’t want to be the film’s protagonist, but the importance of the case for Cajamarca’s farmers, and people around the world suffering abuse at the hands of transnational corporations, convinced him to participate. And, as we reminded him, it was Marco’s enemies who labelled him ‘The Devil’, making him the hero of the film.

In solidarity with Marco during this new assault, we have put The Devil Operation on Vimeo, for free public viewing:

Today being Independence Day in the United States, where Newmont Mining is headquartered, I’ll sign off with a 170 year-old quote from American philosopher and father of Civil Disobedience Henry David Thoreau:

“Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

Let our thoughts and prayers go out to this very just man in his Peruvian prison tonight.

Stephanie Boyd is Director/Producer of The Devil Operation

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