Mines and Energy Minister Sees Improvements in Community Relations

Improvements in community relations are helping ensure investments worth approximately US$11.8 billion in the mining and energy sectors, according to Mines and Energy minister Eleodoro Mayorga.

“Today, we can say with great satisfaction that we don’t have any situations in the sector  that are in a crisis due to  conflicts, thanks to early intervention and the promotion of an appropriate relationship with their social and geographical surroundings,” said Mayorga, reported by state news agency Andina.

One of the biggest projectsin process is the Chinese-owned Las Bambas copper project, located in Peru’s southern Andean region of Apurimac.

There is also the Tia Maria copper project, which last week was granted approval by the Mines and Energy Ministry after facing violent protests in 2011 that led to its suspension.

Over several administrations, Peru has struggled to control conflicts that have regularly flared up in the provinces in opposition to mining, oil and gas, and hydroelectric projects. Most are based on environmental issues, and additionally also include indigenous community issues of territory and the right to prior consultation under United Nations conventions signed by Peru. The prior consultation issues are for the most part related to territories in the Amazon rainforest.

The most famous prior consultation protest resulted in the death of 24 police and 10 indigenous protesters in the northeast rainforest of Bagua, during President Alan Garcia’s administration.  The trial of 52 people began in May this year, five years after the event.

Shortly after President Ollanta Humala took office in 2011, the situation reached a boiling point and led to two cabinet shuffles within his first year in office as police battled anti-mining protesters in the regions of Cajamarca and Cusco, leading to several deaths.

Since then, the government says it has taken a softer approach to dealing with opponents of projects by emphasizing dialogue.

Not all analysts are convinced that Peru’s important mining and energy sectors are  conflict free. Jose de Echave, a former deputy Environment minister, says that many of the conflicts have moved to districts that have little recent history with mining, such as Apurimac, but will likely be turned into important hubs with the start of megaprojects.

Figures published by the Ombudsman’s Office show a decline in social conflicts in July this year, but there is still  a total of 164 active conflicts of which 71.4 percent are related to socio-environmental issues in mining and 13.5 percent in oil and gas development.

The Observatory for Social Conflicts, a group of three NGOs, has also questioned the government’s approval of Tia Maria’s environmental impact study as there still exists community opposition to the project.

Civil society groups in Arequipa’s Islay province have announced that they would hold protests later this month over their opposition to Tia Maria, a US$1.4 billion copper project. Farmers in the Tambo valley are calling for a protest strike on August 28 and 29 against the project, fearful that the environmental impact study will not protect their water sources.

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