Walter Aduviri – is he a hero or a criminal?

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Walter Aduviri – is he a hero or a criminal?

People see defenders of human rights in Peru as criminals. John Crabtree writes about the unusual case of Walter Aduviri.


Walter Aduviri. Photo courtesy of

Walter Aduviri is a well-known activist in Puno, the region closest to Peru’s southern frontier with Bolivia. His case will soon come to Peru’s Supreme Court. It is about the role he played in a big protest by indigenous Aymaran communities against a mining project in 2011. He is facing arrest and he is hiding. He is also a candidate for the regional presidency in the elections in October 2018.

Aduviri is accused of helping the ‘Aymarazo’. The ‘Aymarazo’ are the Aymara-speaking communities in the southern part of Puno. They protested in 2011 against the Santa Ana silver mining project because of the negative environmental and social effects. The government of Alan García at the time and in its last days in office, was obliged to stop the project. The Canadian company, Bear Creek, took Peru to international arbitration over the payment of compensation.

Aduviri is not sorry about his role in the protest. He hopes that his possible election in October will help him. He is now the only one of the accused protesters facing trial. The Aymaran communities, which are his political support, will use their political power to help him.

There are often conflicts between mining companies and communities in Peru, where they encourage foreign investment. Projects given to mining companies usually ignore the land rights of communities in or near the mines. There are usually no rights to have consultations. The Peruvian authorities do not agree that Aymaran or Quechua communities in the Peruvian highlands are ‘indigenous’.

Protests in the Andean highlands have forced big international mining companies to stop projects. Often protests become violent. The ‘Aymarazo’ was one example in this part of Peru. Mining prices were high in 2011 and companies wanted to move in and profit from mines in Peru. But when prices went down after 2013, there was less interest and fewer protests.

In 2017 prices went up and there is new interest. And the number of conflicts is increasing again.

Human rights lawyers see in the Aduviri case a worrying problem. The case against him is that he is an ‘indirect perpetrator’. This is a legal idea often used in the past to convict people on terrorist charges. And judges say that Aduviri cannot be an ‘indigenous’ leader because he has a university education and so he probably knows about the protest law.

Making protests a crime in the country is a real worry for Peruvian human rights. Human rights defenders, especially in far away country regions, are often at risk of arrest or worse. There is growing international concern about how authorities target human rights leaders to stop protests against mining. Civil society organizations like the Peru Support Group in London are leading the concern.

The Aduviri case shows these concerns and the concern about the defence of the rights of communities to protest about the pollution of their land and rivers by mining companies and the social problems that come with this. There is time to help human and environmental rights defenders in Peru by going to the Peru Support Group’s crowdfunding campaign on

John Crabtree is a writer and academic specializing in the Andean region. His latest book, with Francisco Durand, is Peru: Elite Power and Political Capture (Zed Books).


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)