Can dialogue happen at Las Bambas?

17 April 2016

The all-important Mesa de Dialogo at the Las Bambas mine is due to resume on Thursday 21 April (see http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/news-article-1078.html#1078). However, the situation remains confused and tense. A fresh strike has been declared in Challhuahuacho, demanding the presence of the Prime Minister; the agenda has not yet been made clear. In response to the strike, many police have been moved into the area, and CooperAcción, an NGO involved in attempting to support the popular movement to clarify and make effective its agenda, fears that the Mesa will yet again be suspended.

Meanwhile the group of comuneros who walked from Apurimac to Lima last month and carried out a hunger strike for ten days which saw one of its members in hospital (http://peru21.pe/actualidad/manifestantes-contra-proyecto-minero-bambas-cumplen-10-dias-huelga-hambre-2243273), has suspended its strike but continues to attempt to negotiate its demands in Lima, including the right to a consulta previa process. The group has presented a freedom of information request to the Ministry of the Interior, seeking information on the presence of national police in the mining camp.

A spokesperson for CooperAcción commented to us that what is reflected in Las Bambas is a situation so familiar in many conflicts around mining in Peru; social organisation at the grassroots level is fragile, lacking in transparency, and contradictory. Communities are understandably reluctant to spread the potential benefits from the project very far, but also feel threatened by huge dangers to their livelihoods and the environment, for which reason they need solidarity among a wide group.

This description of the degree of fragility and incoherence at the level of communities expresses very well the difficulty of coming to any kind of consensus. The combination of raised expectations, fear, conflicting agendas and lack of consensus, opens the way to a serious likelihood of protest, strong responses and escalation to violence. This situation characterises many of the mining areas, especially in the south. There is a serious need for strong and empathetic political leadership aimed at consensual outcomes and recognising people's expectations, fears and needs. It is worth noting how strongly the mining areas in the south backed Veronika Mendoza and Gregorio Santos in last week’s election.

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