Tía María but the tip of an iceberg
14 June 2015
Tía María is undoubtedly the fiercest and most potent conflict in Peru at present in the troubled extractives sector. As we have repeatedly highlighted, it raises big issues not just about the environment but of how to relate to civil society. The State of Emergency declared on 22 May and covering seven regions, now becomes more ominous as President Humala battles with Congress to achieve special powers to rule by decree for 120 days.
Given the threat to democratic institutions implicit in all this, it is important to recall that there are many other on-going and serious conflicts – Conga, Camisea, Pichanaki, Chavin 2 to name but a few. The Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) counts over 200 on-going conflicts, with most in the extractives sector.
To take one example, this week yet more delegations of local communities arrived at the offices of Odebrecht, the Brazilian firm planning to develop the hydro-electric plant Chavin 2 on the River Marañon in the north-east of Peru. These are people whose livelihoods are threatened by the proposal. They have presented petitions supported by local mayors. Ominously, the comuneros state they are unwilling to talk to the company because of the way it behaves at meetings, 'bringing police and outsiders, acting in an arrogant way' ('con prepotencia'). The company says it is not responding because it has received death threats from the NGO supporting the protestors. This is a tragic example of the total lack of trust ('desconfianza') on all sides which characterizes all too many of these situations
And on-going we have at least two more major and related issues: informal gold mining and the question of the police and their involvement with extractive companies.
Informal and illegal gold mining is 'regulated' by force and by the unreal demand that informal entities should formalise when they lack the capacity and necessary support. El Comercio reports that each week almost 100 kilos of gold are taken out of the Peruvian jungle by illegal means and transferred to Bolivia
On the issue of the police and involvement with private companies, Tia Maria is certainly ‘only’ the tip of the iceberg. José De Echave, a former vice-minister of the environment, said in interview this week with David Hill of the Guardian: “the majority of the big mining companies in Peru, like Yanacocha, Xstrata and Antamina, have an agreement with the police. These types of agreements pervert its role as a state entity protecting citizens, and make it appear more like private police at the service of big companies'