Friday, November 18, 2011

Peru's President Battered by Mining Protests


Four months into his presidency, Peru’s Ollanta Humala is facing his first serious challenge, in the form of widespread opposition to mining projects. Social movements across the country are putting up a fierce fight against large-scale development projects, often on the grounds that they will damage the environment.

In a country rich in gas and mineral wealth, much of which is located in the land of indigenous groups, the government face the task of balancing the imperative to protect the environment and respect the wishes of the population with that of developing the economy. An added complication is that Humala won the presidency as a left-leaning candidate, promising to spread the benefits of the country’s economic boom in a way previous President Alan Garcia had failed to do, and resolve social conflicts. For the Financial Times, the conflicts are shaping up to be the “defining issue” of Humala’s presidency.

The problems facing Humala are a direct inheritance from the presidency of pro-market Alan Garcia, whose time in power saw the number of social conflictstriple, bringing about the death of some 191 people in clashes.

An article in the latest issue of the Economist says that, in the face of the demands of social movements and investors, “keeping both parties happy at once may be impossible.”

At least 80 people were reportedly injured in clashes when police broke up anti-mining protests earlier this month in the southern region of Apurimac, forcing the government into signing a ban on mining in the area around the city of Andahuaylas, center of the protests. As Reuters sums up the situation, Humala is
trying to mediate more than 200 environmental conflicts nationwide that often pit rural towns against mining and oil companies with $50 billion in projects planned in Peru for the next decade.
Humala has taken various steps to mediate these conflicts, including instituting a requirement that native groups are consulted on resource extraction projects. He has also tried to increase welfare programs in deprived rural areas, which are often those where groups affected by development projects live. A watchdog body on social conflicts has praised the consultation law, saying that it was a historic achievement that signalled the government’s commitment to working with excluded populations.

However, the Economist warns that;
The native-consultation law could also prove perilous for Mr Humala. By January the government must decide which groups should be consulted, and how recommendations will be made. Formally, the process only applies to indigenous groups, prompting squabbling over who can use that label.
Humala’s Prime Minister Salomon Lerner has taken on the role of “bad cop,” asBloggings by Boz points out, threatening to crack down on protesters who disturb the peace.

Similar difficulties have beset the presidency of Evo Morales in neighboring Bolivia, who has seen his support base eaten away by opposition to large-scale infrastructure projects, particularly a proposed highway that would have been built in an indigenous reserve. As in Peru, Bolivian law mandates that residents of these reserves must be consulted over planned projects. Though the political situation in Bolivia is different, with even stronger social movements, the fact that Morales was forced into a humiliating climbdown on the project serves as a warning to Humala.

As the FT puts it;
every protest is a fresh test of the president’s ability to keep walking that line between investors and Peruvians who feel locked out of the country’s rapid economic growth.

New Briefs
  • Julian Leyzaola, police chief in the troubled Mexican border city of Juarez, is facing a fresh round of allegations of abuses committed during his time as police chief in Tijuana. His two years in charge of security in the city coincided with a dramatic drop in the murder rate, for which he and his highly aggressive tactics took some of the credit, and the police officer was recently named one of the top 50people who have "changed" Mexico, by a magazine. The latest abuse allegations relate to reports that he sanctioned the torture of people in police custody. These kind of claims have been made before, as detailed in a 2010New Yorker piece, which quoted police officers who said they had been tortured after being detained on suspicion of corruption. Leyzaola has responded by claiming that organized criminal groups are behind the abuse allegations.
  • The Brookings Institute has published a report which calls on the international community to encourage Cuba’s reforms by engaging with the country, boosting reformist voices within the government and bringing the communist nation “in from the cold.” According to the report, this link-building process is already underway; “Far from isolated by U.S. sanctions, the Cuban economy has become deeply integrated into global trading and investment markets.”
  • In more commentary on Cuba’s economic reforms, the Miami Herald has a critical analysis of the country’s new property laws, arguing that they do not bring about as much real change as some have said. For the Miami Herald, “it is too early to foretell the development of any meaningful real estate market in Cuba,” and “the socialist model is still the rule of law” in that country.
  • Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega is a step closer to being extradited to his home country from France, after the U.S. agreed to the move,reports the Associated Press. In Panama, the ageing ex-leader faces decades in prison for charges including embezzlement and murdering opponents.
  • The Miami Herald reports on an advertising campaign by the Colombian government which aims to stop the flow of child soldiers into the FARC rebel group. The idea is to warn parents that abusive home environments could encourage their children to run away and join the guerrillas. The problem of child guerrillas is a serious one, and more than 300 minors reportedlydemobilized from the FARC in the first seven months of this year.
  • Former President of Peru Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a prison sentence for human rights abuses during his time in power, has been admitted to hospitalfor tests. The former leader still enjoys a degree of popularity in the country, where his daughter Keiko recently came close to winning the presidency in a campaign based on his popularity. His declining health, including a bout of tongue cancer, could strengthen the case for him to be pardoned on compassionate grounds.
  • Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was overthrown in a 2009 coup, is set to run for the presidency in 2013. Her husband is blocked from running by the constitution brought in after the coup.
  • The Guardian reports that Afro-Brazilians have become a majority in the country for the first time, with some 50.7 percent of Brazilians defining themselves as black or mixed-race in the 2010 census.
  • Also from Brazil, the Economist reports on the government’s moves to investigate crimes committed under the 1964-85 military dictatorship, with the establishment of a truth commission to look into the abuses of the period. The British newspaper says that, “Compared with its neighbours, Brazil has been slow to revisit its dictatorship’s crimes,” in part because its transition to democracy was more gentle than Argentina, for example.
  • National Security Spokesman Alejandro Poire, a key figure in the Mexican government’s war on drugs,  has been appointed as interior minister, following the mysterious death of Francisco Blake Mora in a helicopter crash.