The first such mining conflict of the year broke out last month in the district of Cañaris in the northern Lambayeque region, where locals opposed to a planned project by a Canadian-owned mining company have occupied its exploration camp since January 20. Several local villagers have been injured in clashes with police, and at least one person has died, according to Peru21.
Yet the Cañaris conflict has so far been low-key in comparison to other recent anti-mining conflicts in the country. It does not measure up, for instance, to the protests against the Minas Conga copper and gold mining project in July, when mass demonstrations forced Humala to declare a state of emergency in three provinces in the northwestern region of Cajamarca.
This is partially due to the official response to the Cañaris protests. The government agency responsible for mediating resource conflicts, the National Office of Dialogue and Sustainability (ONDS), has initiated a series of talks with locals to address their concerns with the project. The dialogue has proved successful thus far, and RPP Noticias reports that locals announced on February 4 that they would consider temporarily suspending the protests as the talks continue.
Meanwhile, Cajamarca Regional President Gregorio Santos, a key figure in anti-mining protests, met with Humala’s cabinet chief Juan Jimenez last week to discuss economic development in the area. After the meeting, Jimenez told local media that the two had agreed that mining serves as an important source of revenue to the country, and that sustainable mining should not be completely taken off the table.
These meetings suggest that, after a rocky start, the Humala administration is beginning to adopt a new approach to mining conflicts in the country. Peruvian conflict resolution expert Jose Luis Lopez Follegatti, who directs a mining conflict dialogue group affiliated with CARE Peru, believes this to be the case. In a recent interview with La Republica, Lopez Follegatti told the paper he believes the Humala government is “improving its relationships with investors, with natural resources and with local populations.”
This shift may be due in part to the fact that a law requiring consultation with affected indigenous communities, which was passed by Congress in September 2011, is finally set to go into effect. The law will be implemented for the first time next month, when communities in the Amazonian region of Loreto will be consulted on a proposed oil drilling project.
But the law is not without controversy. Because it only applies to communities the state formally recognizes as indigenous, it is limited in scope. Most state-recognized indigenous groups are in the jungle region, not the mountainous sierra where most mining projects are underway. In Cañaris, for instance, it is unclear whether the government is required to carry out consultations with locals before green-lighting mining projects, and La Republica reports that the human rights ombudsman has asked the government to clarify this.
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