Ombudsman reports on social conflict

25 January 2015

In its most recent monthly social conflict report, the Peruvian Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) registered a total of 210 social conflicts for the month of December 2014. According to its metric, this included 160 (76%) active conflicts, with a further 50 classified as in a situation of ‘latency’.

This was a reduction from 212 cases in November, and the 217 cases in October which represented the peak for active conflicts for 2014. In terms of geographic distribution, the regions of Ancash (23), Apurímac (22) and Puno (18) registered the most social conflicts in December.

This is perhaps unsurprising given the well-documented history of what the Ombudsman refers to as socio-environmental conflicts in these provinces. Conflict between local communities and extractive industries operating in their vicinity is the principal cause of 139 social conflicts across the country, representing 66% of the total.

Four new conflicts erupted in December. Two are categorised as socio-environmental in the context of the construction of the hydro-electric Santa Teresa I project, one has its roots in a communal grievance between the communities of Cconccaccaa and Ccahuanhire in Apurímac, and finally, the fourth concerns the conflicts around the widely reported labour marches protesting against the Humala government’s legislation to liberalise employment laws (see last week’s Update).

On a brighter note, three conflicts in Huánuco, Lima and Puno were resolved in the month of December. All of them had their roots in local electoral battles.

The Ombudsman has a long history of intervening in social conflicts, stretching back to the early 1990s. Notably successful interventions include the office’s mediation between the Achuar community and Pluspetrol in 2006. However, social conflicts also pose a challenge for the institution, risking charges of political partisanship (as in the case of Tambogrande in 2003) or institutional impotence in the face of escalating violence (Bagua in 2009).

Peru remains a country beset with very serious social conflict, a perennial feature of social life since the government of Alejandro Toledo (2001-06). The inability or unwillingness of successive governments to deliver on the social demands and expectations of the populace provides fertile ground for local grievances to escalate quickly into violent conflict.

Typical of the sort of conflict that pepper the reports of the Defensoría is that of Ocuviri in the province of Lampa, Puno. On January 23, two police officers lost their lives and many others were wounded with clashes between the police and angry members of the local community. According to the local mayor, the comuneros had requested documentation from a local mining company, Las Aguilas Ciemsa, showing that they had official authorisation and environmental clearance to enter into production. To this end, they had taken up the case up with the Defensoría and with the Prime Minister’s office. Having dragged its heels, company representatives had finally agreed to show local people the permits they possessed. The violence occurred when, in view of this promise, the police took steps to dismantle the road block erected by the comuneros.

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