Manthorpe: Peru battles widespread local hostility to mining projects
Hundreds of local farmers besieged the exploration mining camp of Vancouver-based Candente Copper Corp. in northern Peru last week after clashes with police in which at least four people were wounded. The protests against the Canariaco project in Peru’s northern region of Lambayeque, in which up to 20 people have been wounded by police bullets according to local doctors, is the latest in about 150 similar disputes between local people and mining operations in the last five years. But in a statement last week Candente’s chief executive Joanne Freeze insisted
“There are business interests working to make it look like a community issue. It is pretty well known that this is not what it appears to be.” However, the unrest is so intense throughout the country’s mineral belt that investment in mining in Peru, which produces about 60 per cent of the country’s export revenues, is predicted to fall by 33 per cent or almost $3 billion this year, according to the Peru Mining, Oil and Energy Society.
Peru is the world’s second biggest producer of copper and silver, and a major producer of gold, zinc and lead. The common themes in the protests are fears of water contamination and other environmental damage, lack of prior consultation with local people, and anger that so few of the economic benefits from the mining operations are gathered by surrounding communities.
The local hostility towards mining operations and other resource industries is a major headache for left-wing President Ollanta Humala, who won a narrow victory over his conservative opponent Keiko Fujimori in the 2011 election. Humala, a former army officer who led an unsuccessful coup in 2000, campaigned on promises to foster “social inclusion” and ensure a more equitable distribution of the wealth created by mining industries. However, having vigorously opposed some mining projects during the campaign, such as the now stalled United States company Newport Mining’s Conga copper and gold operation, once in office Humala re-calibrated his stance toward supporting extractive industry investment.
Humala’s shift is a recognition of the reality that much of Peru’s economic vitality, which has seen average annual growth rates of six per cent in the last few years, is dependent on mineral exports. Peru remains a very poor country, but between 2007 and 2011 the proportion of the country’s 30 million people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 42 per cent to 28 per cent, largely because of revenue from extractive industries.
But Humala’s message that the best way forward is encouraging mining investment within an appropriate framework of social advancement has largely fallen on deaf ears among the increasingly militant local communities. The President’s popularity has plummeted as a result of what the social movements see as a betrayal of his election promises. The animosity around the Newport Mining’s Conga project is symptomatic of the national malaise and is especially bitter because five local people were killed in demonstrations at the site. Local farmers believe already inadequate water supplies in that arid part of the country will be polluted by the mine, making their crops unsaleable.
In response Newport Mining and its local joint venture partner have put the $5 billion Conga project on hold while they spend $40 million constructing large reservoirs and $30 million on community projects in order to overcome the local misgivings. But the plans to turn several local lakes into reservoirs far from placating local opposition only stirred it up. There was such seething opposition last year that a state of emergency had to be declared. Newport Mining is not alone in pulling back on project development in the hope that some solution to local animosity can be found. In all about 15 major mining projects have been put on hold because of community hostility.
Among them is Canada’s Barrick Gold, which announced last September it would temporarily suspend operations at one of its two mines in Peru after one person was killed in clashes between protesters and the police. A major problem for the Humala administration is that it doesn’t have any mechanisms for resolving the disputes between mining companies and local communities. There is an ombudsman’s office called the Defensoria del Pueblo (Defender of the People). But its main job is collecting information about social conflicts and its authority to mediate disputes before they turn violent is unclear. Institutions, apart from the police, representing the central government or even provincial administrations are seriously lacking in the isolated highland regions where the mining companies operate. The result is that without any mediation bodies, local anxieties swiftly grow into violent confrontations
IDF re-enters Burin after Molotov cocktail thrown
The IDF and Border police went into the West Bank village of Burin on Sunday night in search of a Palestinian suspect who had thrown a Molotov cocktail at a military vehicle. One Border Police officer was lightly injured in the clashes that ensued, and one Palestinian was arrested.
The IDF did not provide information on the charges against the Palestinian. The incident follows clashes between security forces and Palestinians in and around Burin village on Saturday, after Palestinian activists tried to erect a protest tent encampment in Area B of the West Bank, on the edge of the village. Security forces evacuated the 150 to 200 Palestinian activists from the encampment, which Palestinians called Al-Manatir. At the end of Saturday’s incident, the IDF and Border Police entered the village.
Palestinians stoned their vehicles, and security forces entered the village and shot tear gas; Palestinians reported that they also used live ammunition. On Sunday evening, some 15 IDF and Border Police vehicles entered Burin, according to Popular Struggle Coordination Committee spokeswoman Abir Kopty. She said that the IDF shot tear gas, raided five homes and detained three people, two of whom were released.
One Palestinian resident of Burin said the tear gas smoke was so thick, he had a hard time reaching his home. The IDF said that when security forces entered the village to search for the Molotov cocktail suspect, Palestinians threw stones at their vehicles. Security forces then used riot dispersal means, including tear gas.