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Protests shut down Peru-Bolivia border

For more than two weeks, thousands of people have blocked an international border in Peru — and almost no one in the English-speaking world seems to have noticed.

The story has fallen through the cracks, but here's what's happening:

A proposed mining project on the shores of Lake Titicaca has provoked outrage among Peruvians. Protests are growing in the southeastern part of the country.

About 10,000 people gathered in the city of Puno this week, shouting "Mina no, agro yes" (roughly "Mines no, farms yes"). Shops, schools and public transit all shut down.

The protests were sparked by the announcement that a subsidiary of the Canadian mining company Bear Creek would be allowed to build a silver mine near Lake Titicaca.

Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest lake in South America. The lake was considered sacred by the Incas and is a major tourist draw today.

The protesters say mining would pollute Lake Titicaca, the Desaguadero River and its tributaries. They are demanding the cancellation of all mining and oil concessions and the repeal of the decree that allows mining in the border area.

Bear Creek says the proposed project offers a "low-cost 'pure silver' mine" in a "mineral-rich nation with a favorable investment climate."

The Peruvian government said it would dispatch the military to control the protest and clear the road linking the two countries.

Bolivian businessmen estimate they have lost between $7 million and $16 million because of the blockade. The president of the Chamber of Exporters of Bolivia, Goran Vranicic, told Efe that daily losses total $1 million.

The protest began on May 9 with the closing of the Desaguadero border crossing. The route is still blocked with large rocks, logs and barbed wire.

About 600 trucks are stuck on the Bolivian side of the border, and in the last couple of hours, many of the trapped truckers have begun returning to the Bolivian capital of La Paz. The closure largely affects Bolivian cargo headed to Peru or to third countries through Peruvian ports (Bolivia doesn't have access to the sea).

In April, after a protest left three dead in the nearby region of Arequipa, the Peruvian government canceled the Tia Maria mining project.

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