In international forums, the national government of Peru displays an aura of pride about its mechanisms for protecting indigenous and community rights alongside powerful extractive industries. However, many NGO and community groups believe these mechanisms are insufficient and unsubstantial as applied, and social conflict around mining and its effects on communities prevail throughout Peru. In fact, half of all the conflicts reported by the Peruvian Ombudsman’s office in 2009 were related to the environment and over one-third were related to mining (Bebbington et al 2009). Some of these conflicts have escalated violently in recent months, and the national government has responded by declaring a State of Emergency in several regions.
I went to Peru with funding from the Tropical Resources Institute, Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies, and the Program in Agrarian Studies to understand the approach taken by environmental NGOs in Peru towards mining conflicts. I spent time in the offices of two NGOs in Lima to try to understand the mechanisms through which these organizations operate, including their decision-making processes and criteria for setting organizational priorities.
In addition to Lima, I also spent approximately six weeks in Andean regions of the country where significant mining activity takes place. In these regions, I interviewed stakeholders including community members, NGO staff, local government officials, mining company representatives, engineers and academics to understand their arguments for or against mining in their local region. I paid particular attention to themes that correlate with Peruvian laws, such as social consultation before mining projects and the criminalization of social protest, in order to understand perceptions of the national government and its activities. I sought to identify factors that cause mining conflicts to emerge.