Three people were dead and 50 were injured in the southern Peruvian province of Islay, Arequipa, before the government finally agreed to reject the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the Tía María copper project, which belongs to the Southern Peru Copper Corporation, a company with Mexican backers.
Thousands of residents of the Tambo Valley began an indefinite strike in late March against the project that would affect more than 12,000 hectares of crops, in addition to contaminating the Tambo River´s waters, which are used for human consumption and agricultural irrigation.
After clashes between police and demonstrators on April 8, the Ministry of Energy and Mines declared inadmissible the EIA that had been evaluated by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), resulting in numerous observations.
“We have announced a directorial resolution that declares the project inadmissible and also requires the company to refrain from carrying out any mining activity in the area,” said Pedro Sánchez, minister of Energy and Mines. He also ordered the company to remove equipment, machinery and supplies already set up in the area.
“When the company presented the assessment, we turned it over to UNOPS, which then produced comments,” added the minister, highlighting that there was hope the company would resolve the noted issues; however, in reviewing the documents, they found “elements that are insuperable, which void [the document].”
A similar problem had emerged in June 2009, when indigenous Amazon residents staged a massive protest demanding the repeal of a series of legislative decrees that allowed for the distribution, without previous consultations, of large hydrocarbon, mining and logging concessions that overlapped with indigenous lands and nature reserves.
These clashes between police and indigenous protestors in the northern jungle province of Bagua left 33 people dead.
The fundamental problem in most existing social conflicts in Peru, which number about 250 according to the Ombudsman´s Office, is related to the absence of mechanisms providing for consultation with indigenous and campesino populations in regards to mining and hydrocarbon concessions granted by the government on their lands.
In May of last year, Congress passed a law on indigenous peoples´ right to prior consultation, in response to a recommendation from the International Labour Organization (ILO), which requires the state to initiate a process of participation and consultation with indigenous populations regarding any action affecting their group rights.
Nevertheless, two months later the Executive branch returned the law to Congress with observations, including one that highlighted the need to make it explicit that the indigenous population would not have veto power. The government maintains that the ILO´s Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples does not grant the right to veto power and in the case where agreement or consent cannot be reached, national interest takes precedence over the rights of the indigenous people to “avoid all of the negative effects on the country´s investment climate”.
To date, the Legislature has not discussed the version of the law that includes these observations.