Environment as a conflict issue
You can here music from the different regions being played mixed with more modern versions of the same. A distinct smell of city and diesel is hovering around and the car horns are loud. “Palta, palta” is yelled out from speakers, at first you react on the sound, but soon learn to familiarize with the bicycling fruit delivers who have speakers to enhance the important message, that now avocado is coming to your street.
In Peru the three regions are of very great importance to the Peruvian culture. Not only due to history but also to the environment, creating micro climates and the possibility to grow a variety of crops. On the coast it is the ocean, in the Andes the glaciers and in the jungle, the amazon that are giving life to all these possibilities.
Due to climate change and the lack of water many conflicts surrounding scarcity have occurred. One example in history is when 100 farmers took over the Hydro Electric plant, Cañón del Pato, due the dropping of lake water levels, creating disturbance to farmers, but they also occur on a more daily basis where the conflicts sometimes end in violence.
They surround the major interest of energy, mining and agriculture, and in the end, the competition over fresh water. Mining is a big part of Peruvian history, where Incas partly are famous just for their richness in gold. This makes it all more a sensitive issue.
“.. it´s the nature of the relationship of human
beings and the environment we live in.”
“Environment in itself” Barbara Fraser, environmental journalist in Peru, says and continues, “I am not sure I would define it as a conflict issue, but there are certain environmental issues, around which there is conflicts. And I think that´s just the nature, it´s the nature of the relationship of human beings and the environment we live in.“
Fraser says that there is limited amount of resources, differing interests and level of needs. It has become especially interesting in Peru and the Latin American countries where the economic growth in the last ten to twelve years gotten so far ahead of regulations and she says, “it certainly gotten ahead of the governments ability to formalize the economy and formalize a lot of the activities. “
Elie Gardner, multimedia journalist in Peru agrees. She says that mining in Madre de Dios is just a much bigger problem than the government can take on because of resources, because of the remoteness of the issue and where it is happening and the manpower it would take to really control the issue.
“.. changes that might have happened over a few decades
in the United States or in many European countries are getting
compressed into a very short timeframe here and it does create conflicts.”
Mining are of high importance to the Peruvian economy, being the biggest export sector in Peru accounting for 61% of the earnings in 2010 and climbing, Peruvian Times reports in 2011.
“That was a huge change in attitude
that people where not prepared for”.
Laws and regulations within the environmental area quite quickly affect the mining business. Given the example of Madre de Dios and the passing of a new law, Barbara Fraser explains, that something that used to be legal, normal and belonging to the culture as gold mining is now considered illegal, and bad for nature.“The small scale gold mining is a good example. I would say that not even ten years ago the miners in Madre de Dios.. probably would have been considered, self-sufficient, entrepreneurial, businesspeople. “ Fraser says. Then the attitude changed, the environmental ministry was created and all of a sudden, this people where committing a crime, she continues.
“That was a huge change in attitude that people where not prepared for” Fraser says, “ So those kinds of changes is just happening really fast in these countries because of the enormous economic growth in the past decade, changes that might have happened over a few decades in the United States or in many European countries are getting compressed into a very short timeframe here and it does create conflicts.”
Multimedia journalist Elie Gardner fills in that these miners a lot of the time is painted as terrible people by the media. People who have no environmental conscience, tearing up the earth “and then you meet them, and you see that they are there because there are no other options. “
“.. they don´t have other options,
they are just trying to feed their families and their children.”
Gardner questions if it is them that are the problem or if it is a society that haven´t created better job opportunities for them, educated them about the choices they are making and how it is effecting. “And they don´t have other options, they are just trying to feed their families and their children.” she concludes.
But there are more sides to the conflicts in one sector, where mining also is seen as exploitation by big companies done to poor societies, small cities or agriculture communities, creating conflicts over pollution and economy. Fraser give a good description, “You have a huge goldmine with many people going in and out in, and this huge trucks with this enormous tires on them, and people going in and out of picup trucks, late model picuptrucks, with polarised windows, right next to a community where people are living in adobe houses and herding their llamas, and don´t have electricity or running water.” she says, to explain the contrast between the rich and the poor, the one exploiting and the one not getting a share of the profit.
Under these circumstances it is easily understandable that conflicts are created.
To listen to an audioreport with Barbara Fraser speaking about environment as a conflict issue click here.
The case of Cajamarca
Cajamarca is a mining hot spot. El Comercio reports the 21th of March that the mining industries have had a sharp drop of mining investments of over 55% from previous year due to social conflicts in the area.
Jorge Jesus Chavez Ortiz, student at the University in Cajamarca, have a deep knowledge of the Cajamarca mining situation and have for a long time been fighting for the environment and human rights in the area. Through the blog Mi Mina Corrupta, (translates to “My corrupt mine”) Chavez Ortiz shine light to the mining industry in Cajamarca.
Chavez Ortiz lives in the city of Celendín, where people oppose the Conga mining project. He says that from the beginning it started as a blog with the focus to inform the people not living in the city and people outside the country about the situation in Cajamarca, but the blog then evolved and became a platform where people can make complaints for violation of human rights and abuse of authority among others. The blog became the “means of environmental protection and protection of human rights, especially those who oppose the Conga mining project, Chavez Ortiz says.
He tells the story of why mining came to be and says that Cajamarca since the arrival of the Spanish, has been a mining region and with it social and environmental degradation has followed. Since 1992, a company called Yanacocha run the mining in the area. “Environmental policy in Peru is weak, where the Ministry of Environment is like an ornament. “ Chavez Ortiz says. Since the arrival of the Yanacocha mining around 20 years ago, Cajamarca has become the poorest region of Peru and one detail that the government economists leave out, he underlines, is the environmental degradation mining brings.
“during the time I was arrested I was beaten,
tortured and kidnapped by the police and taken irregularly
from the city of Celendín to Cajamarca.”
There are several conflicts that have arisen due to mining in Cajamarca and Chavez Ortiz mention some. The main is the Choropampa conflict in 2001, where the population become contaminated by mercury due to a truck subcontractor to Yanacocha that spilled mercury on the road, he says. The Conga conflict is the latest one and originates in 2011.
“Mining in Peru claims to be socially and environmentally responsible, which have failed to change the mentality of the people 100% because mining also prove to be stuck in corruption scandals.” he says, pointing to a well known case in Peru of Vladimiro Montesino that was doing favours for Minera Yanacocha, which happened in the 1990´s but is remembered according to Chavez Ortiz. The New York Times wrote an extensive article about it, he says.
Being an activist means accepting risk, “I am aware that by simply reporting events not reported by mainstream media, has drawn the attention of Minera Yanacocha that owns the Conga project” he says. He has appeared in intelligence reports by Ministry of Interior (which he compares to MI6 or CIA), but points out that he is not the only one. There are also other journalists, community leaders, political opponents of the government and the project, as well as NGOs and others that have suffered the same treatment.
“The July 28, 2012, I was arrested by the National Police of Peru in the middle of a “State of Emergency” “, a period where the police take the city to avoid conflicts between the company or public or private institutions”, Chavez Ortiz says, but continues, they also violated several rights, such as to move freely or hold meetings, “during the time I was arrested I was beaten, tortured and kidnapped by the police and taken irregularly from the city of Celendín to Cajamarca.” He was released after 8 hours, he says.
The power of the picture is evident and Chavez Ortiz takes many photos published in the blog ny himself and friends and family take others. A lot of times, he claims, several Peruvian media has used photos without his permission. In some cases to use as cover photos. “The photographs have been useful to denounce the excessive abuses made by the National Police of Peru (PNP), all relating to the issue of violation of Human Rights” he continues. According to Chavez Ortiz in January 2014, the government authorized the use of firearms in social protests, giving license to kill. “In this case the photographs help as evidence of abuse” he concludes and continues that other mass media in Lima are slow when reporting large amounts of news “ they just show photos that are not part of the news.”
“..the current economic system that rules the world is degrading the environment and extending the social gap between rich and poor. “
The COP 20 meeting is being held in Peru this fall, and as a future engineer, Chavez Ortiz says, that the meeting is of great importance for Peru and the world. “For the industry, this is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the great economic potential of the country” he says and continues that for other sectors that work with issues surrounding the environment, it is the best opportunity to learn and improve environmental policies and plans of the country and “in the case of social organizations (village) is the best opportunity to state that the current economic system that rules the world is degrading the environment and extending the social gap between rich and poor. “
By Katarina Wohlfart
To read more about the Madre de Dios, read Gardners article for Nature Magazine
Gardner, E. 2012. Peru battles the gold curse of Madre de Dios. Nature International Weekly Journal of Science. Vol. 486. Issue 7403
Visit the blog Mi Mina Corrupta to read more about the mining conflict in Cajamarca, http://aguamina.blogspot.com/