Monday, December 5, 2011

Peru Declares State of Emergency Over U.S. Mining Project Protests

Peru’s Ollanta Humala declared a state of emergency late Sunday, granting security forces special powers to suppress protests related to a $5 billion U.S. mining project. For the next 60 days security forces may arrest without a warrant, while civilians will have limited right to assembly. As Reuters notes, this is the first time that Humala has taken such measures during his presidency.

The tactic was frequently used by former president Alan Garcia to confront protesters, although Humala’s predecessor was occasionally more aggressive: at one point in 2007, Garcia passed a decree which classified strikes as “extortion” attempts.

The emergency is the culmination of a long and painful struggle between civilians, U.S. firm Newmont Mining Corp. and Humala’s mining and environmental ministries. The copper-and-gold mine project, based about 350 miles outside Lima, forms part of Peru’s biggest gold mine in Cajamarca province. This area receives the greatest amount of mining tax revenue in Peru, and is also home to the highest levels of protests around environmental and developmental issues, according an IPS report from the region last year.

The Newmont project, known as the Minas Conga venture, is in its exploration phase and is set to go into full production in 2015. But now it remains to be seen whether Humala’s state of emergency will allow the project to move forward, or whether Minas Conga will remain in limbo. It is the fourth major mining venture suspended due to community opposition so far this year

Development of Minas Conga would require draining water from four of Cajamarca’s lakes and replacing them with several reservoirs. Protesters say this will deny water access to local farmers and that mining runoff could pollute the groundwater. Newmont disputes that the mining project will have such an impact: it was approved by Peru’s environmental ministry in 2010. Since then, however, one of Humala’s top environmental officials criticized the ministry's issuance of environmental licenses as “outdated,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Humala himself has said that Newmont’s environmental impact report is legitimate, a view echoed by the Mines and Energy Ministry.

For another look at the inner conflict within Humala’s administration over whether Newmont has properly considered the impact of its operations, IDL Reporteros examines the environmental ministry’s Minas Congas study, which lists the ways the Newmont mine may harm the environment.

On November 24, protesters declared an indefinite strike against the mine. During the violent aftermath, demonstrators destroyed some $2 million worth of Newmont machinery while violent clashes with the police left 17 people injured, reports Bloomberg. On November 29 Newmont said it would temporarily suspend the project.

Humala’s state of emergency comes just two weeks after Congress approved a bill which grants the military expanded powers in areas deemed “emergency” zones. As IPS observes, this expansion of military powers to better confront social unrest is presented, in part, as an accompaniment to Peru’s fight against drug trafficking and unlicensed mining. One concern is that, in the guise of protecting public security, Peru’s government will grant the military repressive powers in order to quell protests related to mining or development. IPS says there are currently 217 of these social conflicts nationwide.

Humala has taken previous steps to try and mediate these fights. But the suspension of Minas Conga may further rattle international investors already nervous about Humala’s presidency, partly due to the fact he once seized a multinational copper mine in 2000. At the time, Humala did so as part of a protest against then-president Alberto Fujimori. But given Cajamarca’s strategic importance as the heart of Peru’s mining industry -- and counting the number of suspended projects so far this year -- it seems as though Humala decided he needs to make an example out of the Minas Congas controversy, not necessarily in the favor of the community opposition.

News Briefs
  • Saturday saw the end of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit, hosted by Venezuela. The Wall Street Journal notes that few concrete agreements came out of the summit, but appears to have served the symbolic purpose of creating a symbolic alternative to the Organization of American States. The Miami Herald summarizes some of the other competing demands seen within the summit, classifying the opposing factions as the conservative countries (Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile) against the more leftist ones (Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua). More from the AP and the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • The New York Times examines one tactic used by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to trace the financial networks of drug cartels: laundering cash on behalf of these same criminal organizations. In some ways the tactic is similar to the “buy-bust” strategies long employed by the DEA to impact drug-running operations. These “buy-bust” schemes may involve undercover DEA agents shelling out large amounts of money to buy drug shipments. Such tactics are supposed to allow law enforcement to gather the intelligence needed to eventually make high-level arrests. But as the Times points out, there is a chance of things going horribly wrong, especially if the DEA is found to have laundered money that has aided criminal organizations in killing civilians. The DEA’s strategy of allowing laundered money to cross the border is also reminiscent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and their “Fast and Furious” gun sting. And as Boz points out, one of the main questions worth considering is whether the DEA’s money laundering is effective in accomplishing other law enforcement goals: “Is it worth laundering $10 million in order to seize a $100 million in drug trafficking assets?”
  • In Brazil, Minister of Labor Carlos Lupi resigned, the seventh of Brazil’s 32 cabinet ministers to do so since Dilma Rousseff took office, reports the BBC. Carlos Lupi served as Labor Minister under President “Lula” da Silva, one of the many holdover ministers whom Rousseff chose to keep on board. The Wall Street Journal reports that Lupi’s resignation may be especially damaging to Rousseff considering his strong ties to some of Brazil’s most powerful unions.
  • The Washington Post reports that arrests of migrants along the southwest U.S. border is down 25 percent in 2011, reaching levels not seen since the 1970s. “The lower number of apprehensions supports the Obama administration's contention that the border is more secure now than ever,” the Post notes, adding that the new numbers could motivate D.C. to again tackle immigration reform.
  • The LA Times reports on the resignation of Humberto Moreira, president of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Moreira was dogged by allegations of misconduct dating back when he was governor of Coahuila state. The state currently owes some $3 billion in debts. It remains to be seen whether this latest alleged corruption scandal may harm PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, currently about 20 points ahead in the polls.

  • The Washington Post examines Colombia’s ongoing efforts to dismantle troubled intelligence agency the DAS. One of the most difficult jobs will be protecting the DAS’s vast trove of intelligence files, some of which were once sold to paramilitaries and drug traffickers.
  • Al Jazeera has a video report on Mexico’s switch to a new, oral trial system. In the old system, judges rarely saw witnesses in person and based their rulings primarily on written documents like military and police reports, which were frequently tampered with. All of Mexico’s courts must switch to the new system by 2016, but as Al Jazeera reports, one serious challenge will be retraining judges, prosecutors and defenders to adapt an “entirely new way of thinking” about the law.
  • In an interview with the Associated Press, Haitian President Michel Martelly spoke of the aid that Venezuela is providing to the Caribbean island nation. Much of the aid comes from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe program, which provides oil to Caribbean states in exchange for food exports. About one-fifth of Haiti’s electricity is supplied by power plants that Venezuela build, Martelly added.
  • NPR reports on the forcible recruitment of undocumented migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, who are then forced to smuggle drugs into the U.S. The story echoes an AP report, which examines migration inside Mexico as families move cities in efforts to escape drug violence.
  • Reuters reports on Argentina’s relationship with Iran, typically a distant one due to Iran’s backing of a 1994 attack on a Buenos Aires synagoge, which left 85 people dead. Argentina recently renewed Interpol’s arrest warrants in relation to the attack, which includes a warrant for a former Iranian president. But the Reuters report says there are other signs of shifting relations between Argentina and Iran. Reuters’ main example is that Argentina’s United Nations (UN) ambassador did not exit the room, as traditionally done by U.S. and European diplomats, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a recemt speech to the UN General Assembly.
  • Peru is not the only region witnessing a surge of social conflicts over mining and development projects. A Huffington Post blogger examines the controversy surrounding an electrical dam project in Guatemala, built by an Italian energy company.
  • Finally, Colombian newsweekly Semana has a strange article detailing a scandal involving the Betancourt family, land titles, French drug traffickers and the inner circle of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.