Government responds on Las Bambas dispute

11 December 2016

The government’s proposals on the Las Bambas dispute were delivered in person by Vice-president Martín Vizcarra on 7 December. He was accompanied on his visit to Cotabambas by the ministers of justice and of agriculture, and by Rolando Luque, head of the Oficina Nacional de Diálogo y Sostenibilidad (ONDS).

The development of the Las Bambas mine in Cotabambas, Apurímac, has been a source of acute tension over the last year, especially since the death of a man protesting over the harm inflicted by the road constructed to transport the copper concentrates from the mine to port.

In November, the government made a big effort to be seen to be taking seriously the communities’ concerns. Promises made then in person by Vizcarra have now resulted in a ‘Plan de Desarrollo Integral’ (a comprehensive development plan) for the province of Cotabamba and the district of Progreso. The Plan focuses on projects to be delivered over five years. Vizcarra also added an important rider: the requirement that the company, MMG, review all the contested elements of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) within the next three months.

The Plan envisages funding of 2.05 billion soles (around US$580 million) over the five years for infrastructure, productive activities, education, health and other social programmes, and institutional development. Of this total, 865 million soles is to come from the national government, 560 million from the regional government, 30 million from the municipal governments of Cotabambas province, and 600 million from the company. Of the company’s contribution, less than half is committed as of now. There is also a payment from the government of 17 million soles for the land taken by the company for the building of the road.

The Plan was presented in 42 power-point slides, mostly devoted to listing the projects. It did not show how these related to the provincial and district plans already consulted and agreed upon. We understand that the Plan is a development of the use of budgets already envisaged, rather than ‘new’ money, although it would seem that the commitment from the company can be counted as such. More work is needed to assess these figures. It is as yet unclear how this spending fits into the national planning process and how it responds to criteria other than the need to put an end to a damaging conflict at a mine which will be (when fully operational) one of Peru’s key sources of copper. We have to assume, for instance, that the figures are dependent on the price of copper.

The Plan’s first slides demonstrate the degree of poverty in this area compared to the national average; the local population needs to know that the government is taking their poverty seriously. However, as a Plan, this is only a beginning. There needs to be more information as to who will do what and how. The ‘institutional’ investments are particularly important and are to be welcomed, but they will need fleshing out; capacity to deliver on the ground is crucial.

So while the Plan is to be welcomed overall, local civil society is still looking for responses on human rights violations and on the environmental damage already caused by the road. These are elements not covered by this document. Initial responses from community leaders involved criticisms on these grounds. Because the proposal had not been fully circulated, the leaders demanded more time before offering their response. They say they will do so on 17 December.

The requirement that the company should review the EIA is welcome, but can anything serious be done in three months that deal seriously with the complaints voiced by the communities about about the modifications that were made without consultation? These changes included abandoning the original proposal to build a pipeline to transport concentrates to port and using road haulage as an alternative. This has been at the heart of the conflict.

The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the eating. But it needs to be borne in mind that the lack of consultation was encouraged by the damaging modifications made to the environmental protection provisions in the context of the various paquetazos in 2014 and 2015.
The public sector is arguably as culpable as the company in this respect; it too needs to review its actions.

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