Peru’s President Battered by Mining Protests

by Hannah Stone

The Pan-American Post

Four months into his presidency, Peru’s Ollanta Humala is facing his first serious challenge, in the form of widespread opposition to mining projects. Social movements across the country are putting up a fierce fight against large-scale development projects, often on the grounds that they will damage the environment.

In a country rich in gas and mineral wealth, much of which is located in the land of indigenous groups, the government face the task of balancing the imperative to protect the environment and respect the wishes of the population with that of developing the economy. An added complication is that Humala won the presidency as a left-leaning candidate, promising to spread the benefits of the country’s economic boom in a way previous President Alan Garcia had failed to do, and resolve social conflicts. For the Financial Times, the conflicts are shaping up to be the “defining issue” of Humala’s presidency.

The problems facing Humala are a direct inheritance from the presidency of pro-market Alan Garcia, whose time in power saw the number of social conflicts triple, bringing about the death of some 191 people in clashes.

An article in the latest issue of the Economist says that, in the face of the demands of social movements and investors, “keeping both parties happy at once may be impossible.”

At least 80 people were reportedly injured in clashes when police broke up anti-mining protests earlier this month in the southern region of Apurimac, forcing the government into signing a ban on mining in the area around the city of Andahuaylas, center of the protests. As Reuters sums up the situation, Humala is trying to mediate more than 200 environmental conflicts nationwide that often pit rural towns against mining and oil companies with $50 billion in projects planned in Peru for the next decade.

Humala has taken various steps to mediate these conflicts, including instituting a requirement that native groups are consulted on resource extraction projects. He has also tried to increase welfare programs in deprived rural areas, which are often those where groups affected by development projects live. A watchdog body on social conflicts has praised the consultation law, saying that it was a historic achievement that signalled the government’s commitment to working with excluded populations.

However, the Economist warns that:

The native-consultation law could also prove perilous for Mr Humala. By January the government must decide which groups should be consulted, and how recommendations will be made. Formally, the process only applies to indigenous groups, prompting squabbling over who can use that label.

Humala’s Prime Minister Salomon Lerner has taken on the role of “bad cop,” as Bloggings by Boz points out, threatening to crack down on protesters who disturb the peace.

Similar difficulties have beset the presidency of Evo Morales in neighboring Bolivia, who has seen his support base eaten away by opposition to large-scale infrastructure projects, particularly a proposed highway that would have been built in an indigenous reserve. As in Peru, Bolivian law mandates that residents of these reserves must be consulted over planned projects. Though the political situation in Bolivia is different, with even stronger social movements, the fact that Morales was forced into a humiliating climbdown on the project serves as a warning to Humala.

The original article from the Pan-American Post can be found here.