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PERU
Mining conflicts on the rise
Cecilia Remón
8/21/2008
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Mining Conflict Observatory warns of criminalization of mining related protests.

Despite resounding evidence that most of Peru’s reported social conflicts are connected with Peru’s booming mining industry, some activists warn that the government has turned a blind eye to the trend.

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, 81 percent of the 75 social-environmental conflicts reported in July 2008 involved mining.

José de Echave, head of the Mining and Communities Program at the Lima-based development research organization CooperAcción, says that government authorities are trying to ignore the growing number of these conflicts.

The government is just putting out fires, simply reacting when these conflicts arise, De Echave said at the Aug. 13 presentation of CooperAcción’s second Report of the Mining Conflict Observatory.

The report, which was prepared along with the Ecumenical Foundation for Development and Peace, or FEDEPAZ, and the Training and Intervention Group for Sustainable Development, or GRUFIDES, found that as the mining industry expands, the number of conflicts, particularly in the mines’ exploration stage, has increased.

Dangerous mining expansion
De Echave said mining has not expanded at this rate in nearly two decades. He added that there are 16.3 million hectares of mining concessions on a national level. In terms of national territory, he said concessions that covered around 5 percent of Peruvian territory in the 1990s, now have expanded to almost 13 percent.

The report said that most of the conflicts have been reported in the highland departments of Apurimac, Cajamarca, Cuzco and Junin, and the northern coastal department of Piura in the cases registered in the first half of this year. Forty percent of the area of Apurimac and almost 38 percent of Cajamarca is devoted to mining concessions. In its July Report on Social Conflicts, the Ombudsman’s Office found that 61 of the 75 social-environmental conflicts reported involve mining.

Marco Arana, a Catholic priest and director of Cajamarca-based GRUFIDES said that both reports “show an increase in social conflicts as a result of mining expansion.”

“There is a correlation between the expansion of mining and social conflicts,” he said.

The Mining Conflict Observatory’s greatest concern is that environmental problems, such as water, air and soil pollution, have now gone on to include land rights issues, “due to the legislative decrees issued as part of the implementation of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States.” The pact is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2009.

The most controversial decrees, which are emitted by the country’s president, are Decrees 1015 and 1073, which reduced the minimum approval required for campesina communities to give the go-ahead to the exploration process. They would also be unable to decide on their lands’ value, but instead follow the state’s estimate.

Protests and persecution
Labor issues and the criminalization of protests have also caught the Observatory’s attention. In 2006, there were seven strikes, involving 2,596 workers, which meant a loss of 78,720 man-hours. Last year, there were 29 strikes, with the participation of 41,676 workers and 2 million man-hours were lost as a result. Arana said that most mining conflicts are centered in the northern Peru.

He cited the case of Minera Majaz. Last year, the Chinese-controlled Rio Blanco Copper’s open-pit copper project there was rejected in a vote by the local communities of Ayabaca, Carmen de la Frontera and Paicapampa, in Piura last September. The vote was not recognized by the state, despite fierce opposition to the project in the important agricultural zone, where safe water is key to residents’ livelihoods.

The company Miski Mayo, a subsidiary of Brazilian miner Vale do Rio Doce — the world’s largest steel producer and a top producer of nickel and magnesium— and holder of a mining concession in southern Cajamarca “has contracted former terrorists and criminals … with an agreement with the army and police to arm security groups to intimidate and threaten the community members,” Arana alleged.

The Observatory said that the Choropampa case is still open with no solution in sight. Eight years after a mercury spill in this village outside of the Yanacocha gold mine – the largest in Latin America – which is operated by US mining giant Newmont Mining Corporation and Peru’s Compania Minera Buenaventura, the Health Ministry has found that almost 40 percent of the homes there have high levels of vaporized mercury, “the most dangerous form of contamination of this metal,” Arana said.

“For Yanacocha, this is a closed case, because it had basically been an issue of paying damages and not viewing the health issues as a public problem,” Arana said. “The state hasn’t responded either.”

The organizations’ report also highlights the Majaz case as an evidence of criminalization of protest.

“There are currently 35 people who are prosecuted on terrorism charges, for calling for the community vote for Majaz, among them leaders, local authorities and nongovernmental organization representatives.”

“This situation constitutes a setback in the successes achieved in human rights and democracy in the country,” said the report.
— Latinamerica Press.


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The villagers of Choropampa continue to face health problems for a mercury spill in 2000 by the Yanacocha gold mine. (Photo: Mining Conflict Observatory)
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