Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Fresh Wave of Mining Protests Tests Humala's Balancing Act

For Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, 2013 is shaping up to be yet another turbulent year marked by large-scale mining protests, though there are signs that his government is striking a better balance between mining companies and local interests.

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.

News Briefs
  • On Monday Brazil’s lower house of Congress voted in a landslide to make Henrique Alves its speaker, despite the fact that the lawmaker is currently under investigation for bribery charges. The vote occurred just days after the Senate elected Renan Calheiros, who is also accused of corruption, as its head on Friday. Reuters notes these moves appear drastically “out of step” with the recent movement towards transparency in the other branches of government in Brazil.
  • In a bid to rein in rising inflation, the Brazilian government plans on eliminating all federal taxes on staple foods in the country.  In a radio talk show appearance yesterday, President Dilma Rousseff said that her government would also update the list of goods in a basket deemed essential in the country, which has not been altered in years.
  • Mexico’s Federal Elections Commission (IFE) will meet today to debate whether to issue a fine to former leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador over financial irregularities in his campaign. Fining Lopez Obrador would be a controversial move, especially after the commission ruled not to fine the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in January despite allegations that the PRI engaged in vote buying during last year’s elections.
  • Milenio reports that Mexican authorities are searching for at least five masked gunmen accused of raping six Spanish tourists in an Acapulco tourist resort, a rare case of violent crime occurring in the city's tourist district.
  • In response to the news that Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) has kidnapped two German tourists, a group of academics and former Colombian politicians -- including former governors Horacio Serpa and Antonio Navarro --have volunteered to negotiate the release of the hostages. Caracol Radio reports that the group hopes to use their release as the first step towards a peace process involving the ELN.
  • La Silla Vacia offers an interesting look at how the drug policy reforms proposed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos match up with recent proposals made by the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC). While the two parties did not collaborate on the issue, their positions overlap to a surprising degree.
  • Despite speculation to the contrary, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa assured his supporters yesterday that the stabbing which killed two people at a campaign rally on Monday was not politically motivated. Reuters reports that the individual allegedly behind the attack is in police custody, and officials suspect he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of the incident.
  • With polls showing that Correa remains the favorite to win the February 17 presidential elections, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s William Lee profiles the reasons behind his resilient popularity in spite of Ecuador’s a traditionally unsteady political environment.
  • The Washington Post reports that a joint Jamaica and Japanese project designed to investigate whether the Caribbean island can extract valuable rare-earth minerals from its dry red mud deposits begins today. According to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, if this proves successful it will be one of the most “significant projects ever undertaken in Jamaica.”
  • Argentina has once again sparked the ire of the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands/Malvinas dispute. Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman remarked yesterday during a visit to London that the islands will be under Argentine control “in 20 years.” The Falklands Islands government responded via its official Twitter account by saying Argentina “has a better chance of having their flag on the Moon in 20 years than here in [the capital city of] Stanley.”

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