Are our efforts helping, to hold the extractive industry accountable? Are we contributing to the empowerment of affected communities in achieving justice? Or, do market forces and the flow of money alone affect the decisions of the extractive industry?
We often ask ourselves these kinds of questions when fighting for justice for victims of human rights abuses and environmentally damaging extractive projects.
Sometimes there are wins or even a series of wins that feel like Pachamama [the Mother Earth revered by Andean indigenous peoples] just gave us a big huge pat on the back. Recently, in northern Peru, social movement strategies, political activism, strategic litigation and market forces have aligned in favour of justice.
In December 2014, the Criminal Chamber of Appeals for the Superior Court of Justice of Cajamarca, about 800 miles north of Lima, overturned a sentence that had found Maxima Acuña and her farming family guilty of violently taking over part of Minera Yanacocha’s Conga mine. The Court found that there was not enough evidence to show that the Chaupe family committed criminal “usurpation,” which was what they had been convicted of previously. The Court also stopped a previous resolution that ordered the Chaupe family to evict their property. A big win!
Also, the Constitutional Tribunal in March 2015 ruled in favour of Grufides, a civil society organization that brought a case against the Peruvian government to annul the Conga project. Grufides argues that the project risks the destruction of the environment.
But there were more wins in northern Peru in March: A federal court the United States ordered Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corporation to turn over evidence relating to police repression of protestors against Newmont’s proposed Conga mine in northern Peru as a result of ERI´s filing a Foreign Legal Assistance action.
It also appears that the Conga project is running out of money and looking for investors. This could explain the need for publicity and assistance of political figures (the U.S. ambassador to Peru just visited Cajamarca to promote the company.)
The south of the country, however, is sadly a different story. Communities in Islay oppose the development Southern Copper Corp’s Tia Maria mining project. They believe that the project would cause environmental damage particularly to their water sources linked to agricultural activities in the Tambo Valley.
The communities have been fighting this project for over five years. During this time the government has responded with violent repression. The latest confrontation left many people injured, including women and children.
Although the government sent in thousands of armed troops to the region to resolve the dispute, it is the protestors are tainted as the violent ones. In response to, what the company calls “anti-mining terrorism,” the project was cancelled–temporarily. The company announced the cancellation of the project on March 27th. By March 30, the project was back on. Peru’s government and President Humala unhappy with the threat of losing 1.4 billion dollar project, has now reaffirmed its support of the project. Southern Copper has assured the public they are moving forward with Tia Maria.
Only two months ago the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office of Specialized Crime Prevention and Environment of the Ilo, Moquegua region, requested two years and six months imprisonment for the chief executive of Southern Peru Copper Corporation, Oscar Gonzales Rocha, and payment of civil compensation for million dollars for contamination. Southern responded by filing for precautionary measures in Lima.
Although the government in Peru moves toward cutting back indigenous peoples rights and limiting environmental protections, making our current work more daunting, wins are possible and they keep us going.