Canadian Economic Interests and the Mining Model in Peru

Hundreds protest the construction of the Las Bambas copper mine in the district of Challhuahuacho, Peru in 2015.  Police killed at least two activists during the protests and injured as many as 15 others. Photo: EPA.
Hundreds protest the construction of the Las Bambas copper mine in the district of Challhuahuacho, Peru in 2015. Police killed at least two activists during the protests and injured as many as 15 others. Photo: EPA.
On World Environment Day 2009, a 58 day stand-off on a road that connects Peru’s northern highlands with the Amazon ended in violence, leaving at least 33 dead, including 23 police officers and 10 civilians, and an estimated 200 people wounded, mostly civilians. The ‘Baguazo’ as it is now known – named after the nearby town of Bagua – revealed a system in crisis.

The Awajún and Wampi Indigenous people who made up the majority of demonstrators were not just protesting large-scale oil, mining and logging projects on their territories (including a Canadian-owned gold exploration project), but rather a whole series of legislative reforms that threatened to open up their lands to exploitation under the pretext of implementing the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement and the Canada-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

Criminalization of Land Defenders at Bagua: Criminal investigations following the events at Bagua in which 52 people are implicated have put “the Awajún and Wampi peoples on trial.” Legal processes have proceeded far more rapidly against Indigenous suspects than against a handful of police. Lack of evidence, trumped up charges and possible life sentences for some half dozen Indigenous people lay bare the biases within the Peruvian justice system. Not one politician is being investigated, despite widespread belief that the orders to fire came from the executive government.

A group of Indigenous men with spears line up blocking the entrance to the oil well. One man walks down the road in front shouting, with arm raised.
Indigenous residents gain control of Petrperú No. 6 oil well in Bagua in 2009. The police officers who guarded the area were taken hostage. Photo: La República

High levels of violence and repression against mining-affected communities led Canadian independent journalist Stephanie Boyd to compare the present-day situation to the political repression under the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, commenting:

It feels as though we’ve slipped through a time warp to the early 1990s when Peru was embroiled in a bloodly civil war with leftist guerrillas […] However, today Fujimori’s ‘dirty war’ methods have been privatized […] we’ve exchanged iron-fisted dictators and state terrorism for executives in pin-striped suits orchestrating corporate terrorism.

State violence, criminalization and suppression of resistance

▷ In 1999 Fujimori introduced a law, still in place, that permits companies to contract police or soldiers for protection services and who may use their state-issued uniforms and weapons while on the job.
▷ Under Alan García’s presidency (2006-2011) a series of decrees – which were justified as part of a crack-down on organized crime – broadened the already vague definition of extortion to include actions not intended to obtain an economic advantage, which could include many acts of protest, with possible sentences of up to 25 years in prison.
▷ During García’s presidency some 196 people were killed and another 2,369 wounded in connection with repression of socio-environmental conflicts.
▷ The current administration of President Ollanta Humala promised change, but the Peruvian Observatory of Mining Conflicts, an NGO consortium, reported on the toll against those who dissent: 40 dead under Humala’s administration and 949 wounded with 400 facing legal persecution.

Armed forces are ordered to end a 58-day protest against the privatization of Indigenous lands in Peru's northern Amazon on Earth Day, June 5, 2009.
On Earth Day, June 5, 2009, the government of Peru shut down attempts at dialogue and ordered armed forces to end a 58-day protest in the northern Peruvian Amazon. Thousands of Awajún and Wampi Indigenous peoples had been demonstrating against decrees privatizing their lands and enabling mining, oil and logging projects. At least 34 were killed, including 24 police and 10 civilians. Canada ratified a free trade agreement with Peru the same month. Photo: CATAPA

Canada’s Role

Peru adopted a neoliberal mining law in 1992, under the authoritarian regime of the now imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000). This law entered into force at a time when Fujimori had suspended the Constitution, dissolved the Congress, and weakened the judicial system. Canadian investments in Peru grew between 1993-1997 and then again in tandem with rising commodity prices starting in 2003. Canadian mining companies played a role in every single privatization process in the mining sector with varying success. As of 2011, Natural Resources Canada reported approximately $4 billion CAD in mining assets in Peru. Today, Canada is the third most important foreign investor in the Peruvian mining sector after China and the US.

Tied Aid

The history of Canada’s engagement supporting the neoliberal agenda in Peru dates back to at least 1998. Since that time, the focus of Canadian-supported programs and projects have been largely premised on corporate self-regulation, emphasizing corporate social responsibility, multi-stakeholder dialogue and, increasingly, partnerships between mining companies and non-governmental organizations in mining-affected areas.

Since 2011, Canadian aid to Peru’s extractive sector has increased and its focus has changed little. As of 2009, Canada was the top aid donor to Peru’s mineral extraction sectors, and currently has commitments of some $67 million CAD in overseas development aid to projects aimed at influencing natural resource management at the national, regional and local levels in Peru and to to foster partnerships between NGOs and mining companies in mining-affected areas.

Mining companies involved in partnership projects to date include Canadian and other foreign firms, such as Barrick Gold, Antamina (joint-owned by BHP Billiton, Glencore, Teck and Mitsubishi Corportation), Rio Tinto and others. Tied aid is cynical attempt of the Canadian government to bankroll its own mining industry while claiming to help the Peruvian people.

Mining Diplomacy

Armed forces are ordered to end a 58-day protest against the privatization of Indigenous lands in Peru's northern Amazon on Earth Day, June 5, 2009.
The Peruvian armed forces violently shut down a 58-day Indigenous protest against land privatization and resource extraction projects. Photo: CATAPA

In addition to tied aid, the Canadian government asserts its influence in Peru through the Canadian Embassy. So far, Wikileaks has provided us with one of the most telling insights:

Toward the end of the Toledo administration, in August 2005, a Wikileaks cable from the US Embassy in Lima laid out how Canadian and US Ambassadors lobbied on behalf of major mining companies operating in Peru, encouraging measures to criminalize growing dissent. Representatives from major companies such as Newmont, BHP Billiton and Toronto-based Barrick Gold were present, and Swiss, Australian and British diplomats attended, along with Canada and the US. The US cable calls this set of embassies, a “diplomatic mining group.”

In recent years, since the 2009 ratification of the Peru Canada Free Trade Agreement and most concertedly between 2012 and 2014, Peru and Canada have held a considerable number of high level meetings. Shortly after President Humala was in Ottawa, he rushed through reforms to weaken Peru’s nascent and still weak environmental institutions, justified as necessary to remove red tape to help attract investment. Among other things, these laws stripped the Ministry of the Environment (MINAM) of its jurisdiction over air, soil and water quality standards and of its ability to establish protected areas.

[read more=”Click to READ MORE examples of Canadian intervention in Peru” less=”Read Less”]

▷ Canadian company Barrick Gold and World Vision have had a partnership since 2007 at the company’s Lagunas Norte project in the department of La Libertad. Recently, the project obtained Canadian aid funding, although the mine project remains the subject of persistent complaints over contaminated water supplies and jobs. This is an example that illustrates how NGO-mining company partnerships and the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) approach can undermine community attempts to address the negative impacts from large-scale mining.

▷ Barrick Gold’s Pierina open-pit gold mine in the department of Ancash impacts a number of Quechua indigenous communities who have raised ongoing complaints about water contamination and water sources drying up. In operation since 1998, and now in the process of closure, police responded to a protest in September 2012 over the lack of clean water in the community of Marinayoc with tear gas and bullets. As of November 2014, Peru’s Ombudsman’s office was still reporting two conflicts between communities and Barrick Gold over lack of adequate water supplies.

▷ Mere weeks before HudBay Minerals announced that it began production at its Constancia open-pit copper mine in December 2014, local communities protested. Community members demanded the presence of company management saying that trust had deteriorated with local company officials. National police, who were both inside and outside of the company gates, some dressed in ponchos with company logos, behaviour sent a clear message to protesters about whose side they were on. So did the provincial governor, who refused protective measures for community members, but was willing to grant them for company representatives. [/read]

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