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Peru: four years of Humala


The Humala presidency in perspective: plus ça change….

Elected president four years ago in June 2011, Ollanta Humala promised what he called the ‘great transformation’. Many, particularly among the business elites, feared there would be a dramatic change in the business and mining-friendly economic policies pursued from the start of the millennium, and President Ollanda Humalaindeed since the early 1990s when Alberto Fujimori first introduced neoliberal reforms.

What was transformed were not the policies but the views of the president and those around him like his wife Nadine Heredia, seen by many as the power behind the throne. Humala opted to maintain the economic status quo in his macroeconomic strategy, privileging the interests of the investor community.

However, he did give greater emphasis to social programmes promised in the campaign and designed to alleviate poverty. ‘Pension 65’ was established to provide the elderly with an income upon retirement. ‘Beca 18’ was designed to allow talented youngsters from the provinces and living in poverty to gain access to university education in Lima and abroad. ‘Quali Warma’ granted poor children access to decent school meals.

Like the Juntos programme introduced by President Toledo before them, most of these programmes were based on conditional cash transfers (CCTs) first pioneered in countries like Brazil. Compared with other countries in Latin America, though, these programmes have been quite limited in their scope and impact.

The Humala administration’s greatest success has been in education, where two very competent ministers have radically improved matters through targeted investment tackling both poor infrastructure and teacher training. There has been clear evidence of improvement in educational levels, albeit from an extremely low base.

Despite some significant achievements, the vast majority of people who voted for Humala feel disillusioned by his government’s record over the past four years. Some polls put his popularity rating as low as 10%. Many feel that the reforms carried out have been timid at best and that Humala has accepted far too much by way of compromise in response to pressures from business elites.

Nowhere has this contradiction been clearer than in conflicts over mining. As was the case recently with Farmers protesting over Tia Maria mineTia Maria in Arequipa, local communities continue to reject large projects they consider threatening to their livelihoods. Many such conflicts arise from access to scarce water supplies and fears that mining companies will pollute water sources. In the Amazon region too there is strong opposition to oil companies that have left a trail of destruction and contamination in their wake.

As with previous administrations, the Humala government’s pro-mining stance has led it to permit the use of force to deal with protest against new mining ventures. Laws have been changed to prevent the prosecution of police officers who wound or kill demonstrators. The human rights situation in Peru remains a matter of serious concern.

Arguably, the president has become the main defender of those who feared his election most, but it is these elites which, through the country’s conservative media, criticize his government the most. Nowhere is this clearer than in the attacks on Humala for not taking more draconian action in dealing with “terrorists” that protest against mining projects.

The political climate has become more conflictive (and Humala’s popularity has fallen further) as the economic boom of the last ten years comes to an end. With little more than a year left in office, Humala is routinely criticized for failing to respond to the challenges facing the country. In particular, the policy of promoting mining development at the expense of economic diversification is becoming ever more evident as exports slump and growth slows. And not much of a change of heart is likely in the short period remaining before a new government is elected next year.

Ombudsman registers 210 social conflicts during June 2015

The Peruvian human rights ombudsman (Defensoría del Pueblo) latest report for June 2015 documents 210 social conflicts (149 active and 61 latent). The number has held steady for much of the year, with two new conflicts erupting last month in the regions of Ica and Puno. In Ica, the people in Pisco are protesting against the construction of a new port which poses a potential threat both to the local environment as well as trade and tourism. In Puno, controversy surrounds alleged irregularities in the construction of a sanitation and drainage system by a local municipality in Juliaca.

Peru remains a country beset by social conflicts, the vast majority sparked by concerns over the environmental impact of mining and other extractive industry activities. However, the report also documents instances of conflict resolution. For instance, an agreement was brokered in a conflict between the local indigenous community of Pillao and a company installing a hydro-electric facility in the Huánuco region through mediation between the company concerned, the local community, the district municipality, and provincial government.

The report documents that in June 2015 there were no reports of wounded or killed in the context of social protests. However, the report emphasizes the failure of concerned parties, especially government mediation, to advance solutions to longstanding conflicts, the underlying causes of which are replicated across different regions. It notes, pointedly, that in the majority of cases government official appear neither willing nor able to promote dialogue. During this government, 43 people have died at the hands of the police or the civil guard often as a result of violent escalation of unresolved social conflicts.

Julio Galindo designated National Prosecutor in Constitutional Matters

A hardline opponent of the human rights community in Peru has been designated as National Prosecutor in Constitutional Matters. A former anti-terrorism Prosecutor, Julio Galindo, was appointed on 1 June by President Ollanta Humala, the prime minister and the head of the judiciary, and will now form part of the Legal Defence Council, an advisory body to the executive.

Galindo stepped down from the Public Prosecutors Special Office on Crimes of Terrorism earlier this year. He had been the subject of robust criticism, including from representatives of the government, for claiming that the controversial theatre production La Cautiva, performed in early 2015, was in violation of the crime of justifying terrorism (delito de apologia) and threatening its creators with imprisonment. An official investigation by the Anti-Terrorism Directorate (DIRCOTE) prompted a public outcry and defence of the play by the Ministry of Culture, among others.

Eventually, Galindo was forced to acknowledge that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate his claim. Nevertheless, he persisted in denouncing the production as showing “reasonable indications that the piece is poised on the edge of freedom and the crime of justifying terrorism”. He went onto argue that La Cautiva “attacked the institutional image of the military and suggests that they all committed human rights violations”.

Environmental Challenges at Las Bambas: Peru’s largest copper mine

When Chinese stock market regulations forced Glencore to divest itself of some part of its holdings to continue to be quoted in China, the result was the sale of Peru’s largest copper project, Las Bambas in Apurimac, to a Chinese consortium. The latter inherited a situation of serious disquiet over environmental impacts. To the Chinese company’s credit, they appear to be working hard to respond to that disquiet. They have opened an office to consider CVs from local people wishing to apply for jobs, they have promised to publish the amended environmental impact assessment (EIA), to take part in an environmental commission, and provide plant nurseries and cattle to assist in alternatives to mining. There will be a waste material management programme and new arrangements for the management of water.

A separate – and major – change is the abandonment of a pipeline to convey ore to Espinar, following protests not from local communities but from those in Espinar. This will mean instead a road transporting 450 million tons of copper a year through local rural communities. This will create pollution and noise, and has been a surprise to the local community – not debated. Pedro Gamio, ex-Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy, says the change “ought to have been more broadly discussed with local people, because its impacts will be greater than those of the pipeline.” We are learning the hard way – from Tia Maria above all – that responsible and consensual improving of EIAs is difficult to manage. The process is not as regulated as the initial approval, with fewer requirements for public discussion.

It is good news, however, that the Chinese group is struggling to engage. We reported in April that Chinese companies had requested ‘training’ in good practice in environmental management: this should be encouraged. The tensions will only get greater as the project moves from construction, needing 10,000 workers, to production, needing a mere 2000.

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