Conflict escalating around natural resource projects nationally
On April 10th, Peruvians will head to the polls to vote for their next President. The election comes at a time of impressive economic growth for Peru, but also of escalating community tensions around mining and other natural resource projects. In spite of these growing tensions, a discussion of the right of local communities to participate in the decision-making process on oil, gas, and mining projects has not played a prominent role in the debate running up to the election.
Mining exports of minerals like gold, copper and zinc represent an important part of Peru’s economic growth, estimated at between 6.5 and 7 percent for 2011 and 2012. Last year by October 2010 mining exports generated close to $17 billion, around 30 percent more than in the same period in 2009. However, in order to maintain its impressive economic growth trajectory, the next President will need to take proactive measures to address growing social conflict around mining and other natural resource projects.
Only two candidates, former President Alejandro Toledo and left-wing nationalist Ollanta Humala, have committed to respecting the right of communities to be consulted prior to the implementation of natural resource projects on their lands in accordance with International Labor Convention 169 (which grants indigenous communities the right to be consulted on issues affecting them). In particular, the passage of a Consultation Law should be a major priority of all candidates in order to prevent conflict around natural resource projects.
In recent years, conflicts around extractive industry projects in Peru have escalated. In February 2011, Peru’s national ombudsman office (Defensoría del Pueblo) reported that 48.3 percent of documented social conflicts were around environmental issues, including mining, oil and gas projects. At the same time, mining activity continues to expand throughout the country. In 2010, the Peruvian government approved 267 environmental impact assessments for mining projects, which could translate into mining investment of more than US$13 billion over the coming years.
Just last week, the major copper producer Southern Copper announced that it will postpone its $1 billion project in the region of Arequipa due to social conflict that arose from community concerns about how the project would affect water supplies.
In 2009, the situation became particularly explosive when police clashed with indigenous protesters in the town of Bagua in northern Peru, leaving 34 dead and numerous injuries among police officers and indigenous peoples. The conflict erupted around a set of legislative decrees put in place by the Garcia government, which indigenous federations and civil society organizations claimed would infringe upon indigenous land rights, and were passed without genuine consultation with indigenous communities.
OPPORTUNITY FOR POLICY CHANGE
The Peruvian government ratified International Labor Organization Convention 169 in 1993, yet to date the government has failed to put in place a Consultation Law. Last May, Peru’s congress came close by passing a bill requiring consultation with indigenous communities about development priorities, but the executive branch returned the bill to congress in June with suggested revisions that undermined the intent of the bill. Since then, the bill has been on standby in Congress.
Last week the Due Process of Law Foundation launched a report titled The Right of Indigenous Peoples to Prior Consultation with support from Oxfam America. The report found that Bolivia and Ecuador’s recent constitutions broadly incorporate the rights of indigenous peoples, and Colombia has developed extensive jurisprudence on the issue of prior consultation of indigenous peoples. Peru, however, continues to lag behind its neighbors in terms of putting domestic laws in place consistent with international standards.
If Peru’s Presidential candidates truly care about maintaining growth and stability, they should publicly recognize the importance of adopting an adequate Consultation Law and securing the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of local communities prior to launching large natural resource projects on their lands. Otherwise, conflicts around these projects could create major obstacles for Peru’s continued growth.