A long-running issue in the field of mining and human rights has taken what may be a significant step forward. Senior government officials appear to have agreed to building health facilities in Espinar to deal with problems arising from mining there.

Espinar is in the highlands of Cuzco. Serious issues of contamination from the Tintaya mine (operated by Glencore) have been repeatedly reported since 2010, along with the negative health consequences arising, including heavy metal poisoning. In 2010, the mine was owned by Xstrata, which was subsequently taken over by Glencore. Earlier conflicts go back to 2002 when BHP Billiton was in charge. Tintatya is at the end of its life, but is being replaced by the new Antapaccay mine.

The current dispute concerns obligations undertaken by the state in response to the dialogue table (mesa de diálogo) of 2012-13. A court case is currently playing out in London involving the treatment of 15 of leaders involved in a strike in May 2012.

Having failed to achieve a response, local organisations declared an ultimatum in September, demanding action within thirty days. Given the continued lack of any positive response, an indefinite strike had been planned for 21 November.

However, the government’s decision to send a working group to the area, including the ministers of health, energy and mines, agriculture as well as the vice-minister of transport, led to the temporary suspension of the threatened strike.

It now appears that agreement has been reached, after a meeting last week of more than four hours. The ministers have committed themselves to building a promised hospital and initiating a comprehensive health plan (plan integral de salud) in February.

Even more promising, press reports emphasise the installation of a ‘follow-up’ committee to make sure the promises are kept. Such committees are not unusual, but it is a frequent complaint that they do not do their job. If this can be achieved (and the publicity surrounding it is a promising sign) then it will help restore confidence in the possibilities of dialogue.