Towards an evaluation of 2013: Socio-environmental trends in Peru

Cooperacción | 27 JANUARY 2014

This is a shortened version of an analysis of environmental and social conflict in in Peru 2013, published by Cooperacción (Spanish).

2013 saw a number of changes in social and environmental conflict. Although there were fewer active conflicts than in the previous year, it was nonetheless an intense period marked by a series of economic, social and environmental developments.

Firstly, the year began with a vigorous campaign by the private sector, warning that economic growth was losing steam and investments becoming paralyzed. Strangely, in the case of mining, official figures showed not only that investment hadn’t stopped, but that it had increased: statistics from the Ministry of Energy and Mines showed that from 2011 to 2012, investment rose by 18 per cent (from US$7.24bn to $8.55bn). Then in the first half of 2013, investment increased by 19.6 per cent (from $3.6bn in 2012 to $4.3bn).

Yet the private sector’s campaign, backed by major media outlets, certainly produced results: President Humala himself and the finance minister, Luis Castilla, announced at the end of May 2013 that the government had taken a set of measures to accelerate investments amounting to approximately $15 billion. The news was greeted with delight among the leading business associations.

Since then all the talk has been exclusively of new ways to keep facilitating investment, and so far not of strengthening social and environmental policies. Instead, we began to see several steps backwards. While the new National Office of Dialogue and Sustainability (run by the presidency of the Council of Ministers) declared that the “upward trend [of conflicts] has clearly been moderated”, the Interior Minister announced the creation of frentes policiales (special police units) in mining regions. Some areas, such as Espinar, are already living with the consequences of these sorts of measures.

Delays to conflict-prevention policies

In addition, more than two years since the approval of the Law on Prior Consultation of indigenous peoples, its implementation continues to raise serious doubts. One of the most controversial issues has been the development and publication of the database of qualifying groups (la Base de Datos de Pueblos Indígenas y Originarios del Perú). So far detailed information on only 5 of the 52 peoples in the database has been published. Questions remain over how it was developed, and although authorities have said future decisions will be based on diverse sources of information, we are yet to see that translated into results. There has been no indication of whether indigenous organisations will be able to participate in the decision making process.

Another area of concern is integrated rural planning (ordenamiento territorial), which featured heavily in President Humala’s early speeches. The Plataforma para el Ordenamiento Territorial released a statement saying that “in 2011 and 2012, President Humala said he would give the Acuerdo Nacional [an institution that tries to facilitate consensus among the government, private sector and civil society] the role of leading the debate on a policy that was being developed in that forum.” “In recent months we’ve witnessed set-backs in the government’s approach to the issue, to the point that the concept of ordenamiento territorial has been fudged with the ill-defined ‘territorial management’, which diminishes the importance of planning as a fundamental element of the country’s governance.”

There are also new issues to consider, such as the reduction of mining tax income (the canon), which is particularly affecting regions like Cusco and municipalities like Espinar, and which shows every sign of continuing this year.

It remains to be seen what happens this year and which trends will dominate: latency or activity and the explosion of new conflicts. Already the year began with renewed conflict in Tía María, in the Arequipa province of Islay. But it’s clear that half way through Humala’s administration, all indications are that the most conventional interpretations of social conflict are being adopted again, expressed in the new wave of policies that seek to preserve the status quo rather than addressing the underlying problems. If this approach is kept up, the outlook will remain scarcely encouraging. 

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  • PSG Aims

    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

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