PSG News Summary: March 2012

31 March 2012

Falklands Dispute Embroils Peru

In a last minute decision on 15th March, Peru's Foreign Affairs Minister Rafael Roncagliolo withdrew permission for Britain's HMS Montrose to dock at a naval base in Callao. The decision to block the vessel, which was on a routine deployment to the region, was a gesture of solidarity with Argentina in their long-running dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) expressed regret over the move and lamented that government officials had not voiced their concerns the preceding week when they had met with British Minister for Latin America Jeremy Browne in Lima. Browne's trip had included a meeting with Roncagliolo to discuss cooperation in a number of areas.

An FCO spokesman commented: “This was agreed as an act of friendship and co-operation between Peru and the UK. Ship visits are a sovereign decision for states, but we regret that Peru has revoked its previous agreement to this visit”.

The position of the Humala administration on the Falkland Islands has been somewhat confused. In early February, the government publicly backed its UNASUR partner saying it supported Argentina’s “aspiration toreach a peaceful understanding” with Britain over the dispute. A week later however, Congress received a request to authorise the mooring of the British warship in March. Congress approved the request on 28th February.

The decision to block the landing was criticised by former vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, Luis Solari, who called the move “unnecessary and unfriendly”. Retired vice-admiral Jorge Montoya, former commander-in-chief of the armed forces, added the decision showed “unacceptable” weakness on the part of the Peruvian state under pressure from Argentina.

Such criticism was far from universal however, with others such as José Antonio García-Belaunde, minister of Foreign Affairs under President García, applauding the move.

Peru has traditionally been an ally of Argentina in the Falklands dispute. During the war it provided military equipment and other support to the Argentine air force and navy. Recently tensions over the islands have resurfaced as Argentina has sought to persuade neighbouring states to refuse docking to ships flying the Falklands flag.

Humala 'Favoured' Jailed Brother

President Humala faced allegations this month that he had granted preferential treatment to his imprisoned brother.

Local media reported that Antauro Humala had enjoyed a number of special perks while held at the Piedras Gordas maximum security prison. The prisoner was said to possess an iPhone and a laptop with internet connection which could be used in his cell. He was also reported to hold political meetings in the jail, to receive visits from various girlfriends and was filmed smoking marijuana with a cellmate.

Antauro is currently serving a 19-year sentence for heading a failed uprising against the Toledo government in 2005. Along with 130 other members of the ultra-nationalist Etnocacerista movement he attacked a police station in Andahuaylas, taking hostages and demanding Toledo's resignation. Four policemen and two of Antauro's men died in the incident.

President Humala has sought to distance himself from his brother saying he plays no part in “what he says, does or thinks” and is therefore “completely separate from him”. He dismissed the allegations of favouritism saying any benefits his brother had received were not the result of his interference, but rather the result of widespread corruption among prison staff.

Humala added that the Justice Ministry’s decision to transfer Antauro from Piedras Gordas to the Virgen de la Merced military prison, which had also raised eyebrows, was based on legitimate security concerns. He also gave assurances that his brother would receive no preferential treatment at this new location.

Despite the denials, the incident appeared to negatively affect the president’s approval ratings. According to March poll by Datum support for Humala fell from 58% in February to 55% this month.

La Oroya Activists Threatened

On 1st March a team of environmental campaigners from La Oroya-based organisation Pastoral Social de Dignidad Humana received an anonymous phone call threatening their lives. One member of the group, led by Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, reported he was told that “You and your boss are going to heaven [so] go and buy your coffins”.

In recent months Barreto has been campaigning about the health risks associated with a nearby smelter run by Doe Run Peru. The firm is shortly due to resume activities in the area after an extended hiatus. In 2009 it was forced to halt operations as a result of strong local opposition to the project over environmental concerns.

Campaigners say that while the company has had over two years to develop less harmful exploitation techniques, insufficient political pressure has been applied to ensure it complies with its environmental obligations.

Previous governments have twice postponed the deadline for Doe Run to complete its Environmental Remediation and Management Program. Congress is currently deciding whether to do so a third time. Workers at La Oroya are pressing for operations to resumewhile muchof the local population has demanded sanctions against the company.

This is not the first time that activists in the area have been threatened. Barreto has himself received similar warnings in the past. So too have Paula Meza and Percy Malca, two researchers for the project Mantaro Revive investigating environmental contamination in the area.

Following the incident, acting Human Rights Ombudsman Eduardo Vega expressed his solidarity with the archbishop urged the government to more closely monitor threats against environmental defenders in future.

In 2007 Time Magazine rated La Oroya as the fifth most polluted place in the world. The magazine claimed the average lead level in residents’ bloodstreams to be three times higher than World Health Organisation standards.

Unofficial Review Criticises Conga Study

In early March, American academic Robert Moran published the results of an unofficial review of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the controversial Minas Conga project in northern Peru.

Moran's report was touted as an alternative to that of the government appointed review panel, comprising two Spanish experts and one from Portugal, which is due to present its findings next month.

Cajamarca’s regional government, a prominent opponent of Conga, presented the conclusions of Moran’s investigation at a press conference on 12th March. After studying the EIA, the academic highlighted the following issues and concerns:

  • The original study was not objective nor independent as it was carried out by the mine operator, Yanacocha, which had a clear economic interest in pushing ahead with the project.
  • Though the report contains a lot of useful information, there are a number of occasions where inconvenient facts are omitted and half truths told.
  • The EIA does not provide sufficient data and measurements to allow regulators, investors and the local population to properly assess its future impacts.
  • Overall, the assessment of Conga's impacts in the report is focused only on the short-term. It does not consider either long-term effects or the cumulative impact of the various other projects planned for the same region.
  • The government set a deadline of 2013 for Yanacocha to hand in its studies of the project's effects on water supplies. Despite the fact that this key section was missing, the García administration still approved the EIA in 2010.

While community groups and environmental organisations claimed the investigation vindicated their concerns about the project, not all were so supportive. Environmental Minister Manuel Pulgar Vida dismissed the document as being fundamentally political and “full of damaging claims that don’t have any scientific or technical basis”. Antonio Brack, who served as Environmental Minister under García, said the report was “an embarrassment” and denied Moran's assertion that the EIA was a “public relations document for Yanacocha”.

Humala has denounced the creeping politicisation of the Conga conflict, saying this month that the dispute had become “contaminated by ideology”. With this he appeared to make reference to the input of Gregorio Santos, president of the regional government in Cajamarca, with whom he has recently been at loggerheads.

Social movements in the region recently filed a motion with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights seeking to block the project. Last week, Justice Minister Juan Jiménez Mayor travelled to Washington in defence of Conga, saying human rights would be respected throughout the process.

Despite the legal proceedings Newmont Mining, who own Yanacocha along with Peru’s Benavides, appear confident the project will still go ahead. CEO Richard O'Brien was quoted this week as saying that “The president supports mining and the Conga project. It is an important investment for the company and the country”.

The £3bn (US$ 4.8bn) project has been suspended since the outbreak of protests in the Cajamarca region in November. In February, approximately 2,000 people participated in an eight-day march to Lima to register their concerns about Conga's effect on water supplies.

Campaigners Denounce Threats to Uncontacted Indians

Tribal rights organisation Survival International warned in mid-March that tourism and illegal logging are endangering Peru's uncontacted Indian population.

For a number of months the organisation has been closely monitoring threats to the Mashco-Piro community in the Manú national park in south-east Peru. This group are one of only a hundred or so left in the world which have no regular contact with outsiders.

Mashco-Piro sightings have increased significantly in recent months. Survival says this because they are being forced out of the rainforest into more visible areas by a combination of illegal logging and new oil and gas projects. An investigation by Britain's Observer newspaper has also revealed that, as the tribes have become more visible, a number of local tour agencies have begun to offer 'human safaris' to see uncontacted communities.

The increased proximity of tribal communities to the outside world has already caused some frictions. Mashco-Piro men are reported to be increasingly firing warning arrows at tourists and park authorities. Last November one local resident was killed by such a projectile.

Some limited initiatives have been launched to protect the area. In February, Amazon Indian organisation FENAMAD and the Piro Indian residents of the Diamante community agreed to build a guard post in the area to protect both the uncontacted Indians and other locals. They hope the post will deter trespassing in the area, particularly from the illegal loggers who constitute the greatest threat to the Mashco-Piro people. The same month, Peru’s Department for Protected Areas led a raid on an illegal logging site in the Manú park and discovered more than a kilometre of illegally felled timber. A group of men were arrested and are currently facing prison sentences of three to six years.

All news

  • PSG Aims

    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

  • Historical Overview

    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

  • Human Rights

    Human rights violations were widespread during the twenty years after the initiation of armed conflict in 1980. Efforts to convict perpetrators since the war's end have made only limited progress. Today, concerns remain over the treatment of those engaged in social protest, particularly against strategically important investment projects.

  • Why join the PSG?

    • Keep up to date with latest news and developments in Peru
    • Learn about key issues of poverty, development and human rights in Peru
    • Support the work of the Peru Support Group

    Become a member