President Vizcarra`s Independence Day speech offered general statements, worrisome announcements and some significant silences on mining issues.
What he said is consistent with previous assertions: the commitment to mining is on so long as it is done in ways that are environmentally responsible and bring benefits to local people. At the same time, specific measures mentioned serve to weaken environmental protection and limit spaces for people to participate in decisions affecting them.
“Mining is now an essential component of the country’s economic growth” the president stated “We need a strengthened and competitive mining sector but, in turn, [one] responsible for the environment and whose activity develops in harmony with the rights of communities and people.”
While it is hard to disagree with such politically correct general statements, the devil – as the saying goes – is in the detail and in some of the concrete announcements made; there were areas in which there was an eloquent silence.
Amongst the 48 projects Vizcarra mentioned as ready to start is Integración Coroccohuayco in Cuzco. The project`s modified EIA has been criticised by civil society organisations and the consultation process with local indigenous populations was suspended in mid-March because of the health emergency.
He did not mention that DL 1500, which allows for virtual participation and consultation (see below) and which could be used to speed up this project, has been rejected by civil society and indigenous organizations.
And he made no mention of the ongoing conflict between the social organisations of Espinar (where Corroccohayco is located) and Glencore (which also owns the concession and is at the centre of the conflict we highlighted last week) about the use of a local fund to provide a special bonus during the Covid-19 crisis. In such circumstances it seems unlikely that the locals will provide the required social licence any time soon.
Vizcarra announced changes to the Reglamento de Procedimientos Mineros or regulatory framework so as to “streamline procedures that provide predictability and impetus for private investment and promote respect for the rights of indigenous peoples”. A modified norm was published 48 hours after Vizcarra announced it and contains some worrisome features such as elimination of the requirement for an Environmental Certificate for a range of exploration activities. It also establishes that the modification and/or approval of some environmental management instruments are subject to ‘administrative silence’. This means that if the authority responsible fails to respond before the deadline set by the regulations then such an instrument or its modification will be automatically approved.
Changes to encourage exploration have long been demanded by the Sociedad Nacional de Minería, Petróleo y Energía (the main mining lobby organisation). Most probably SNMPP will be happy with what Vizcarra had to say on this.
Finally, Vizcarra announced that the government was drafting a new state policy for what he called “sustainable development of the mining sector”. This, he said, would be based on the so-called Rimay 2030 Mining Vision (published last year) and proposals drafted by a special commission for reforming the mining code. The proposals, he said, are a “highly relevant instrument that will contribute to the growth of the country, attracting investment and the generation of appropriate scenarios ensuring the well-being of surrounding communities”.
Vizcarra’s speech was silent on a number of other matters. No mention was made of projects such as Conga and Tía María, suspended due to resistance from local people. Mining companies have been persistent in demanding steps to clear the way for these projects to go ahead. He omitted to say anything about the way large mining companies and related law firms have benefitted from soft credits intended for small-scale businesses. Nor did he refer to the Escazu Agreement. As we mentioned two weeks ago, this has been heavily criticised by the business organisations. It would reinforce the citizen’s rights to access information, to participate in decision making, and to achieve justice regarding environmental damages caused by mining.