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A friend of mine from Peru recently posted a 14 minute news video on his Facebook profile.  I didn’t know how long it was when I clicked on it, but actually ended up watching the full news clip and becoming increasingly interested on what was being reported.

Basically, the government has approved a mining project, and the people that live in the area surrounding the proposed project are opposed to it because said mining project will pollute their water.

The debates have gotten so heated that people have been killed during protests by government crackdowns, and there has been a suspension of civil liberties in an effort by the government to curtail such protests. (Sources here, here and here.)

A couple things I found to be very interesting just from skimming the news: 1) in the original video I posted at the beginning, there is footage of the current president of Peru during his electoral campaign, making promises that the villagers water would be protected if he was elected (after he was elected, he approved the mining project), and 2) this quote: “Eurasia Group said Monday in a report that ‘The Ollanta Humala administration remains strongly committed to advancing Minas Conga at all costs. It is not only the country’s largest [foreign direct investment] project, but the government views this as a test case that could shape other social conflicts affecting mining investment.” (Emphasis added). Huh.

Although there have been talks between the villagers and the government, with the aid of a couple Catholic priests, it doesn’t seem like these have helped reach an agreement, since both sides seem pretty set.

Most recently, president Ollanta had to shuffle around his cabinet in an effort to appease those who believed his former cabinet chief had a “confrontational attitude” that led to clashes with protestors.

On the government’s end, mining is a very important sector for the country.  Peru “is one of the world’s largest producers of gold, copper, zinc, silver, and other minerals. The sector has driven Peru’s economic growth during the last decade. Mining companies have lined up investment projects in Peru worth about $53 billion, which the government is counting on to boost mineral production, increase tax revenue and provide thousands of jobs. However, Morgan Stanley has noted that about 40% of these projects are in areas with a high risk of social conflicts. It said Minas Congas ‘continues to be perceived as a test case that could make or break the mining-investment outlook in Peru,’ adding that ‘lingering uncertainty’ remains.” 

I can see how a government which substantially relies on this income wants to protect the foreign investment that is coming in, by making sure that foreign investors feel comfortable and safe, and will want to keep pumping in money to the country. Not to mention that jobs that will be created.

On the other hand…

“The aspect of the Conga Project generating most controversy and opposition is its impact on the water resources in the area. In fact, the project will severely alter the surface drainage system and impact water bodies within the area, particularly in terms of ravines, river basins and lakes.”

This is extremely important when “78% of the population of Cajamarca is dependent on livestock and agriculture. The region of Cajamarca is the third producer of milk in Peru, an important producer of meat and the first for lentils and peas.”

An interesting argument articulated by opposition groups is a theory of “criminalization of protest,” wherein opposition groups are limited in their protests by making their protest a crime (I guess you can deduce as much, but hey, I didn’t go to law school for 3 years let things be self-explanatory). You can read more about that here.

The most articulate article I’ve found laying out the reasons why this project isn’t a good idea are laid out here.  I would summarize, but really, the whole thing is worth reading. It’s in Spanish, but if there’s an interest in it I’m happy to translate. Another good Spanish source is here. There are also plenty of youtube videos about it.

I’ll close with the comment I left on my friend’s link: “It’s incredible to me that in our day and age, money and power are still more powerful than what is just and right.”

I guess it’s not as incredible as it is disappointing.