An end of year article by Francesca García in El Comercio reviews the pending agenda for 2020 in the field of extractives and social conflict

The report summarises the views of three people: Rolando Luque, associate for the prevention of social conflicts and governability at the Defensoría del Pueblo; Raúl Molina, the vice-minister of territorial governance in the Council of Ministers; and Sebastião Mendonça Ferreira, president of the think tank, Centro Wiñaq, and a specialist in social conflict.

The report reminds us that Martín Vizcarra first came into office in 2016 resolved to deal with the major social conflicts that were pending in the mining sector. Three and a half years later not much success can be reported, though at least in 2019 the number of social conflicts fell from 230 in 2018 to 220 and the figure of two deaths (ideally it should be zero) was the lowest on record, according to Luque.

The three conflicts which, not surprisingly, are seen as likely to dominate the social conflict agenda in 2020 are Tía María in Arequipa, Las Bambas in Apurímac and Quellaveco in Moquegua.

The three interviews by El Comercio all stressed the lack of confidence of the population in the government as being a fundamental problem. Luque made the point that it is in mining where lack of trust in government collides with the interests of multinationals, creating fertile terrain for conflict.

Luque, a person of exceptional experience now at the Defensoría having performed other roles previously, and Mendonça, who presides a group exploring new ways to promote consensus, both insist that if the government hopes to achieve dialogue it must act independently and take serious steps to restore credibility.

Their general line is that the government needs first to take independent initiatives (such as clarifying payment for land, building promised infrastructure and paving the dust road to the port in the case of Las Bambas) if it really wants dialogue to be productive.

All thought that Paola Bustamante’s appointment as ‘high commissioner’ for the mining corridor in Apurímac/Ayacucho was a positive step towards taking dialogue seriously. It appears to signal seriousness of purpose. That there are now four separate processes of dialogue going on in the mining corridor reflects an increased capacity to coordinate such events. We await results from Bustamante’s appointment.

As regards Tía María, Luque argues that we are still at the tricky point where the regional government in Arequipa is using an administrative process to challenge the central government’s moves to give the go ahead for granting a construction permit. Molina who, of the three is the one with a ministerial role in government, restated the official line on Tía María: that it will only go ahead if a social license is obtained. It remains unclear how this will happen.

In the case of Las Bambas, the issues are well known and still unresolved: paving of the dust road leading from the mine to port. The publication on 12 December of a controversial norm on ‘acquiring’ the property to build a new road has generated fresh concerns.

None of the commentators had much to say about Quellaveco and they clearly hope that a peaceful solution there is possible. Both Luque and Mendonça agreed, as we would, that Quellaveco is a much easier case than Las Bambas or Tía María. They stressed how important it has been that the space for dialogue has been preserved and valued, and what this case teaches us about the value of concrete things such as the mechanisms to verify the quality of water. Mendonça makes this point.

From the study ‘Dialogue and Human Rights in the mining sector’ carried out by the PSG last year, we think it is fundamental that the mine sits in a small and much more urbanised department, relatively close to the city. The size of the rural population threatened by the mine is not great while the urban population hopes for improved income opportunities from the mine.