Two police officers drowned when they attempted to swim across a freezing lake to escape a mob of rural vigilantes in La Libertad on Wednesday.
Over one hundred police officers were dispatched to the Santiago de Chuco province in Peru’s northern state of La Libertad. Their mission was to clear the path and maintain peace for the construction of a road in the Quiruvilca district near the San Lorenzo lake.
The police were met by 2,000 vigilantes known as “ronderos” representing various communities in Otuzco province which opposed the road. They say construction will contaminate a lake they use to raise trout.
The vigilantes initially threw rocks but the confrontation escalated and eventually shots were fired. Eighteen police were injured and 10 kidnapped. The 10 police who were kidnapped managed to escape from the vigilantes when they tried to cross a lake to reach the other police. However two of the police failed to reach the other side.
The officers’ bodies were found on Saturday. Interior minister Jose Luis Perez told the press that police would launch an investigation and bring charges against those responsible.
“We have ordered that all necessary investigations be conducted because somebody must be held criminally responsible of this,” Perez told Andina. “It is not the first time we see that our police come at the request of a local authority, as in this case the mayor of Quiruvilca, and they find one population in conflict with another.”
The $1.8 million project sanctioned by the Quiruvilca district will connect four local communities which currently are not accessed by roads. Despite being in the same state as one of Peru’s largest cities in Trujillo, traveling from the provincial capital to Quiruvilca takes longer than one day.
The conflict illustrates the degree of lawlessness in some of Peru’s rural highlands. In addition to its physical isolation, the northern highlands are plagued by drug trafficking, illegal mining and extreme poverty. These mountain passes are common routes for transporting coca from the Alto Huallaga valley to northern port cities.
The San Lorenzo lake and Quiruvilca district are located five miles west of Barrick Gold’s Lagunas Norte gold mine, the largest in Peru. Barrick is not involved in the construction of the Quiruvilca road. The company issued a statement sending it sympathies to the families of the police officers who lost their lives.
Un policía habría muerto en enfrentamiento con comuneros (El Comercio)