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Peru: Reflecting on Anti-Mining Protests

Last week was rather complicated for Peru's government. No sooner had Ollanta Humala's government marked 100 days in power, three social conflicts related to problems with mining activity were exacerbated: a farmers’ strike in Andahuaylas demanding the withdrawal of two copper processing plants and the suspension of mining concessions and activities in the area; protests in Cajamarca against the Conga mining project because twenty lakes could disappear [es] due of this project; and road blocks [es] in Huari and Cátac, in the northern Ancash region, to demand the compliance of environmental commitments by the Antamina and Huallanca mining companies.

Out of all these conflicts, the conflict in Andahuaylas escalated the most; after failing to reach an agreement with the high level commission, the protests left fires in several businesses and around 38 protestors and policemen injured. All this occurred while the media was paying attention to a case of alleged peddling by vice president Omar Chehade [es], and with President Humala outside of the country

Media editorials and opinion columns were quick to mention that the honeymoon between the people and the new government had ended, and that all this was part of a new anti-mining conspiracy.

But in the blogosphere opinions and views are somewhat different. For example, in the blog Consulta Previa (Prior Consultation), after analyzing [es] the protests based on the election promises of Ollanta Humala, they delve into the heart of the matter:

El tema de fondo es si la minería puede desarrollarse en el acuífero. Nuestra respuesta es NO. Una vez que eso esté claro, recién se podrá hablar de un diálogo justo. Que ese punto de partida va a traer mayores costos a los inversionistas, sin duda. Pero no se trata de desecar lagunas y humedales o de contaminar cabeceras de cuenca y aguas subterráneas, como condición para el desarrollo. El mundo ya lo tiene sumamente claro. ¿Por qué el Perú no debería tener derecho a reclamar modernidad a este respecto?

The bottom line is whether mining can be developed in aquifers. Our answer is NO. Once that is clear, we can talk about a fair dialogue. That starting point that will undoubtedly bring higher costs to investors. But this is not about draining ponds and wetlands or contaminating basin headwaters and underground water as a condition for development. The world it is extremely clear about that. Why shouldn't Peru be entitled to claim modernity in this regard?

In the blog ¿Estamos jodidos? (Are we screwed?) they raise [es] concerns about mining in itself, but for reasons related to the truthfulness of the reported production:

Hemos insistido montones de veces que en los proyectos mineros debe de estar el Estado participando de las extracciones por dos razones: primero el control de lo extraído y en segundo lugar por el medioambiente en toda su afectación, por cuyo motivo sean o no impresionantes las inversiones deben estar hechas al 50 ó 51% representado en el consejo de administración por parte del gobierno, y si tan rentable es, con mas razón la participación queda controlada por el Estado.

Lots of times we have insisted that in mining projects the State must be participating in extractions for two reasons: first, for the control of what is extracted, and second, for the environment. Whether significant or not, investments must be made with a 50 or 51% government representation in the board, and if it is so profitable, with more reason participation would be controlled by the State.
Yanacocha Mine, Cajamarca, Perú. Image by Flickr user FeFe (CC BY 2.0).

Yanacocha Mine, Cajamarca, Perú. Image by Flickr user FeFe (CC BY 2.0).

But this distrust is not going in one direction, there is also suspicion against the government [es]:

Humala no es tonto. El se da cuenta perfectamente del daño que hace al país todos estos desmanes sociales y que se necesita su presencia al interior y no en el exterior […] ¿Entonces que está tramando?…. No será que se llegué a una situación de desgobierno y que salga luego a decir que estando así la situación y para bien el país se determina la expropiación de las principales minas y bancos del país. Ojo, ojito ….el militar-presidente no es nada tonto

Humala is not dumb. He fully realizes the damage all these social excesses cause the country and that his presence is needed here and not abroad […] So what is he up to?…. We might reach a situation of anarchy and he might say that under that situation and for the good of the country they decide to expropriate mines and major banks. Be careful …. the military-president is no fool

In the same vain, in the blog Políticamente Incorrecto (Politically Incorrect), Víctor Roble criticizes [es] the actions of Prime Minister Salomón Lerner:

El mensaje que ha dado es el mismo que dieron Simon y Del Castillo: “Si quieres que te escuchemos y atendamos tus reclamos, solo tienes que sitiar ciudades, bloquear carreteras, saquear mercados y apedrear autobuses”. ¿Esta es la Gran Transformación que nos ofreció Ollanta Humala candidato? […] Con justa razón, muchos nos preguntamos si acaso este clima violento contrario a la inversión privada no está siendo alentado soterradamente desde el propio gobierno.

He has sent the same message of Simon and Del Castillo: “If you want us to listen to you and pay attention to your claims, you just have to occupy cities, block roads, loot stores and stone buses”. Is that the Great Transformation candidate Ollanta Humala offered? […] With good reason, many of us wonder if perhaps this violent climate contrary to private investment is being encouraged covertly by the government.

In the blog Gran Combo Club, Silvio Rendón also criticizes [es] President Ollanta Humala, but from another perspective:

Vamos camino a una dictadura perfecta, o una nueva “superconvivencia”. Ollanta Humala no va a honrar sus promesas de hacerle el pare a las mineras, ni va a hacer nada sobre los abusos contra los trabajadores. Humala hoy es el mismo perro (o gato) del hortelano de antes. Ha dado un golpe blando, un “golpe de timón”. […] Claro, Humala se saldrá con la suya, si la gente le deja. […] Pero si la gente reacciona rápido, y entiende que Humala YA deshonró sus promesas y le saca tarjeta roja rapidito nomás, se podría evitar el hecho consumado. Toledo tuvo que retroceder, García tuvo que retroceder. A Humala no le quedaría otra que retroceder.

We're headed for a perfect dictatorship, or a new “supercoexistance”. Ollanta Humala is not going to keep his promises to stop mining companies, and he will not do anything about the abuse against workers. Humala today is the old manager's same dog (or cat). He has instigated a soft coup, a “change of direction.” […] Sure, Humala will get away with it, if people let him. […] But if people react quickly, and understands that Humala HAS ALREADY dishonored his promises and he is quickly red carded, the fait accompli could be prevented. Toledo was forced to back up, Garcia had to back up. Humala will have no other choice than to back up.

Linking the votes from the last elections with the current protests, Rendón adds:

La gente está harta de que la engañen. […] No importa que algunos, principalmente en Lima, justifiquen y disfracen el desacato del voto popular de “madurez politica” o “aprendizaje democrático”. Se necesita un gobierno que cumpla lo que promete. Los grandes empresarios tendrán que renunciar a algunas explotaciones mineras, como tuvieron que renunciar a privatizar la electricidad de Arequipa. […] Si Humala hace lo mismo que hicieron los gobiernos anteriores, tendrá los mismos resultados que éstos: una sublevación de la ciudadanía. No le aceptarán el desacato al voto ciudadano.

People are tired of being deceived. […] It doesn't matter that some, mainly in Lima, justify and disguise the contempt of the popular vote with “political maturity” or “democratic learning”. We need a government that does what it promises. Big business leaders would have to give up some mines, like they had to give privatizing the electricity of Arequipa. […] If Humala does the same things done by previous governments, he will have the same results: a citizen uprising. They will not accept the contempt of citizens’ vote.

Analyzing the case of the Yanacocha mining company, owner of the Conga mining project in Cajamarca, Jacqueline Fowks of Notas desde Lenovo summarizes [es] the company's at times arrogant and proud position:

la historia reciente de Yanacocha-Newmont acerca de su relación con las comunidades, en cuando a seguridad y medio ambiente los coloca en la situación que enfrentan hoy: es decir, sus opositores tienen argumentos. Vale recordar que la empresa no reconoce totalmente su responsabilidad por las secuelas del derrame de mercurio en Choropampa o logró arreglos extrajudiciales no proporcionales a la dimensión de la afectación. En cuando a seguridad, un informe del año 2009 evidenció las prácticas ilegales e irregulares de personal de Forza y también de policías remunerados por la empresa, especialmente por lo ocurrido en Combayo. Cuando en 2010 solicité una entrevista para indagar qué prácticas de seguridad habían cambiado a raíz de esa evaluación y las recomendaciones, la empresa se negó a responder sobre el tema.

[in] the recent history of Yanacocha-Newmont regarding their relationship with the communities, issues of safety and of the environment places them in the situation they face today: that is, their opponents have arguments. It is worth remembering that the company does fully recognize its responsibility for the consequences [es] of the mercury spill in Choropampa, or that it reached court settlements [es] that are not proportional to the dimensions of the consequences. As for security, a 2009 report showed illegal and irregular practices by Forza personnel and police getting paid by the company, especially for what happened in Combayo. When in 2010 I requested an interview to ask about what safety practices had changed as a result of that assessment and recommendations, the company refused to answer on the matter.

In the mean time conflicts are far from over. In Andahuaylas the protest [es] continues [es] despite the farmers’ truce, as a faction continues their striggle, while different sources mention the probable manipulation [es] by infiltrated groups [es]. Citizens of Cajamarca are denuncing [es] the Regional President for calling the strike, while the Yanacocha mining company continues to receive criticism [es] related to the environment [es]. Clearly, these are not easy matters, as illustrated in this video interview [es] where Congressman Javier Diez exposes several issues related to problems with mining.

Post originally published in Juan Arellano's blog on November 14, 2011 [es].

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