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Mining out the Soul of Peru

Since the beginning of 2015 the Peruvian government has called two state of emergencies over the violent protests against the lack of mining regulations and its effects on the environment. There continues to be an expansion of companies investing in Peru and anti-mining protests have been increasing as a counterweight. In most recent years, these disputes have been the cause behind multiple deaths of farmers, workers and police officers.

It must be realized that regardless of the popular grievances towards mining, the industry accounts for most of Peru’s economic success. The International Council on Mining and Minerals an organisation of the world’s largest mining companies, presently has 14 members stationed in Peru. Since 2007, these companies have been responsible for 62% of the country’s total exports. Peru is the second largest producer of silver, the largest copper producer and has significant reserves of coal, sulphur and zinc among other minerals. The industry is controlled by the private sector and holds more than 13% of foreign direct investment. Investments within the past 5 years have brought Peru approximately $30 billion and are presently valued at $10 billion. Additionally, this primary export industry creates more than 210,000 jobs per year. In 2011, there were over 120,000 employees solely in the Northern region of Peru. Although there are clear economic advantages, the Peruvian government lacks the political will and capacity to regulate the mining companies. Political parties have repeatedly been unable to meet the demands and regulate conflicts that derive from this industry.

The lack of proper governance towards mining is apparent in companies’ disrespect for communities and their land, disregard for regulation, and endemic pollution. Anti-mining protests have targeted the Peruvian government and the mining companies since their initial expansion. However, such uproar has intensified in the past few years. This country does not have an abundance of water and with constant growing extraction, the amount of available water and its quality decreasing at an alarming rate. The lack of environmental legislation is harming Peru’s agricultural valleys, and allowing for increased carbon emissions and deforestation of the Peruvian Amazon. Miners suffer from mercury poisoning and there is a high pollution rate of mercury entering rivers and streams, directly affecting the communities living in those regions. In 2009, 15,500 hectares of the forest were dedicated to mining operations. In 1998, 2003 and 2007 in Puira three referendums were held concerning the installation of mining companies. 90% of voters consistently opposed them on each occasion. The government took no steps to address the demands of people.

On an annual basis, Peru has been allowing more and more companies to start their mining projects against the public’s consent. The first state of emergency was declared by the government of president Ollanta Humala in May 2015 after two months of violent protest. More mining projects have been announced for 2016 and the masses have been staunch in their demonstrations. Huge protests have gripped the regions where the copper mines were intended to be developed. The government responded by deploying 4,000 military and police officers. This was followed by a second declaration of a national state of emergency called in early September after four protestors died, over 200 were injured and more soldiers were sent in. There have been multiple rallies since then demanding that the government allow Peruvian citizens to review plans for the upcoming mining projects. The Humala government has met popular opposition with violence rather than consulting the people on a project impact plan.

The rise in conflict and violence in Peru is a direct result of the government not properly dealing with their largest industry. The halt in mining is causing economic distress at the national level. Production has been hampered as well as thousands of employees left out of work. The economic stakes are too large to ignore. Yet the social strife must first be resolved and the environmental concerns appropriately addressed if any progress towards reconciliation is to be made.

 

Gabriela Navarrete

 

Image credit: Wiki Commons

About Gabriela Navarrete

Gabriela Navarrete is presently completing her undergraduate studies in Political Science at Concordia University. Her focal interests consist of Latin American politics and the United Nations. She enjoys focusing on current events and policies. Additionally, Gabriela loves learning about wine and exploring different culinary dishes.

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