Frustrations over discrimination and the governments’ failure to consultaffected communities have fostered feelings of disenfranchisement among indigenous and peasant communities. Such discontent has expressed itself through elevated levels of social conflict. According to the Office of the Peruvian Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) the number of social conflicts more than tripled from 76 in late 2006 to 251 by mid-2011. Approximately half of these have entailed violence at some stage. In August 2012, the Ombudsman registered 245 conflicts in the country (view graph of conflict levels over past 12 months).
Investment projects involving extractive industries (i.e. mining, oil and gas) have proved a particularly sensitive area. Over 50% of reported conflicts are caused by these “socio-environmental” disputes. A significant proportion of Peru’s mineral and hydrocarbon deposits are located on or near lands owned by peasant and indigenous communities. Accessing mineral deposits often involves moving or displacing those living on or nearby the resource. Mineral extraction also places additional demands on scarce resources, such as land and water, which are often crucial for the livelihoods of nearby communities.
The government has implemented some schemes to use tax revenue from mining projects to fund local investments and job creation. However, local communities often do not feel these programmes benefit them directly nor adequately compensate them for the perceived detrimental impacts of extractive activity. Mining and hydrocarbons interests represent powerful lobbies over decision making by the state. Many locals feel the government favours the interests of business over those of the communities.
Some notable recent examples of social conflicts include:
Minas Conga (Cajamarca)
In November 2011, large numbers from peasant communities in Cajamarca protested against the development of the Conga deposits by Yanacocha. They claimed that it would involve diversion of key water resources from neighbourhood peasant communities in Celendín province. The dispute led to the sacking by President Ollanta Humala of the then prime minister, Salomón Lerner Ghitis.
In early May 2011 thousands of Aymara people from the Puno region in southern Peru blocked major transport arteries in protest over nearby extractive activity. Demonstrators demanded the cancellation of the Santa Ana Mining project (operated by Canadian firm Bear Creek) as well as the immediate cessation of all other exploratory or extractive activity in the region. Protests lasted nearly two months during which time five people died in clashes with police. President García, in his final days in office, eventually conceded to some of the demands by cancelling the Santa Ana concession and postponing all extractive activity in the region for 36 months. However, the underlying concerns of the protestors remain unresolved.
Tía María (Arequipa)
In April 2011 three died and a further fifty were injured in clashes between police and locals protesting over the Tía María copper mine near Arequipa in southern Peru. The mine was being developed by Southern Peru Copper, a subsidiary of one of the world’s largest copper mining companies, and was due to start production in 2012. Thousands of farmers protested and blocked roads, claiming the project would lead to the contamination of local water supplies. Mine construction was eventually put on hold pending a re-examination of the environmental impact study.
In April 2009 communities in northern Peru blocked major roads in a protest over two presidential decrees permitting the compulsory purchase of communal and indigenous lands for extractive projects. Officials tried to disperse protesters by force, using live ammunition and dropping teargas canisters from helicopters. In subsequent clashes thirty-three people died, including a number of police officers, and approximately 200 more were injured.
Lord Brenan QC
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