Hopes and fears: cabinet appointments and what they mean for issues around extractives

8 April 2018

From the perspectives of human rights and potential conflict over extractives, there are interesting choices in the new cabinet. Vizcarra has opted for ministers with significant hands-on experience and with their roots beyond Lima.

Grounds for hope include the possibilities of improving the regulation of territorial space. A law of land-use demarcation, or ordenamiento territorial (OT), is badly needed. This is an area that involves huge conflicts of interest. Although work has been carried out in Congress and a number of regions have advanced in the development of policy, huge issues remain.

Land use is of concern in three principal areas: infrastructure projects; the location of mining, petroleum and forestry projects; and urbanisation.

As regards the first two of these, the potential for regional and national interests to conflict is obvious, and it is therefore of interest that César Villanueva is the new prime minister who as a previously rather successful regional governor of San Martín, introduced an OT policy that is widely considered as exemplary. He also has a record for supporting conservation, for example in the Cordillera Escalera and in petroleum exploration.

Vizcarra has similar experience as an equally successful regional president of Moquegua. He stood out in that role as helping negotiate solutions to thorny problems around mining concessions. He played a crucial and much-praised role in Anglo American's dealings with local communities over Quellaveco, and gained further experience (if not exactly success) in the troubles surrounding Las Bambas in Apurímac.

Perhaps more problematic are other appointments. The new minister of energy and mines, Francisco Ismodes, comes from the mining sector where he had experience as manager and advocate of private sector interests. He spent many years with Milpo and more recently with Sierra Antapite. In 2013-14 he was manager of the Sociedad Nacional de Minería, Petroleo y Energía, the main sectoral lobby organisation.

His appointment makes it even more vital to have a strong voice in the environment ministry because of its importance in its brokerage role with regard to sectoral interests. The new environment minister, Fabiola Muñoz, will need all the skill she can muster if she is successfully to defend her corner. Her own antecedents are in SERFOR, a public sector agency criticised for its weak performance. According to Cooperacción, we should be wary of the poacher turned game-keeper. SERFOR, it says, has been rightly questioned for its weakening of the norms that protect forests. Cooperacción alleges that the previous minister, Elsa Galarza, sought to reduce inter-sectoral frictions, resulting in the loss of ministerial heft. It claims this was most in evidence with the environment ministry giving up its control over the OT agenda. Neither the previous background of the new minister nor this institutional weakening is good news.

Such a mixture of backgrounds and interests was perhaps inevitable. We will have to wait and see what negotiating and consensus-building skills these appointments will bring to the table, as well their dedication to and definition of fair play.

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