New book points to shortcomings of mesas de diálogo

24 September 2016

Oxfam and the the Peruvian NGO Cooperacción have together published “Conviviendo con la minería en el Sur Andino”, a book that analyses the experiences of three negotiating forums (mesas de diálogo) convened to mitigate social conflicts. The study focuses on the southern Andean region where, it is estimated, more than half of Peru’s mining investment is concentrated.

The book covers mesas in three emblematic cases in the Cuzco and Apurímac regions: Espinar(2012–2013), Cotabambas (2012–2013); and Chamaca (2013). It seeks to explore the origins and contexts of these cases, and to assess their effectiveness.

The increase in mining investment helped raise expectations of the revenues such projects would bring to the local populations. It also caused pressure on the use of local resources (notably land and water). Disputes arose amongst local government municipalities over the handling of revenues and over territorial demarcation.

This region has a long history of mining and most are not opposed to it per se. However, locals demand that they receive sustainable and long-term benefits and that their rights are respected, particularly with respect to health and the environment.

Social conflict around mining represents around 45% of disputes registered nationwide. Since 2006, the number of such conflicts has been well above 200; 266 people have been killed and 4,511 injured as a result. At the press conference to launch the book, author César Flores Unzaga stressed the important point that, while current policies have sought to mitigate conflicts, they have not reduced their number. This is largely due to the fact that mesas de diálogo are mostly temporary and respond to conflict. What is needed is for them to remain in place after conflict has eased, so that civil society, the state and companies can create the basis for sustainable development through an ongoing forum for negotiation between equals. Otherwise, conflicts often resurface.

By means of detailed analysis of the three cases, the book shows why the current public policy has failed to reduce such instances of conflict and find ways to resolve them. There is an institutional weakness at all levels, not just a lack of technical expertise in local government, only deepened by the absence of inter-institutional coordination and moves to weaken environmental protection. Equally important, negotiations take place on an unequal playing field. The book concludes that power asymmetries express themselves in multiple ways: (i) the lack of technical knowledge among local actors; (ii) the length of time which the mesas are allowed to take place, this being dictated more by the needs of the companies and central government than the needs of local people in addressing the issues involved; (iii) the inability of local actors to maintain their participation throughout negotiations whilst at the same time acquiring the technical expertise to defend their interests; and (iv) the lack of intercultural dialogue.

At the press conference, José de Echave from Cooperacción stressed that the mesas need to overcome such asymmetries, as in practice it is the more powerful participants who tend to control the agenda. It is also important to have clear rules of engagement and for the demands of local people to be listened to. Monitoring mechanisms are needed to measure compliance of the agreements reached.

Link to the book:

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