On my second day in Lima, Peru, and after my third interview with researchers specializing in mining, development, and social conflicts at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos (IEP), it is clear that nothing is clear.
My research is focused on the mining-driven social conflict and rural development to serve as a starting point for a recommendations paper on preventing problems in the extractive-driven economies. More specifically, I am looking at structure of the system of public administration and finance to see how that determines the roles and relationships between the main stakeholders – central, regional and provincial government authorities, extractive companies, communities and civil society at large. This framework allows me to compare and draw parallels between such seemingly different countries as Peru and Kazakhstan.
Cajamarca region, located in the northern highlands of Peru, is the geographic focus of my research, not only because of its ongoing protest against the Conga mine, potentially the largest mining investment in the nation’s history, but also because this incredibly resource-rich region has remained poor and underdeveloped over the centuries of its extractive history. One of over 170 ongoing social conflicts in Peru, the case of Cajamarca provides an opportunity to investigate what precipitated the most recent deterioration of the situation.
My initial plan to survey in the region, however, is under uncertainty as Cajamarca enters its fourteenth day of an indefinite strike against the mining project, put on hold since last year, with daily demonstrations and continuously arriving protesters from provincial and rural communities. The Peruvian media has been dominated with the news of the daily developments in this polarizing conflict.
Last week, the members of the peasant patrols of Cutervo, blocked the 148 kilometer road linking the North Eastern region of Cajamarca and Lambayeque Amazon. Dozens of vehicles carrying cargo and passengers were stranded in the area, as the road remained blocked by rocks and sticks.
Last Tuesday, in a speech before thousands of protesters, regional president Gregorio Santos called for a review of multinational investors’ contracts, constitutional change, and called for the president to be thrown out for not not honoring his commitments. The same day, Congress of Peru announced that Santos had committed “an incitement to the crime of rebellion” and asked for Prosecutor to bring charges against him and restore order.
Meanwhile, according to the regional secretary, the indefinite suspension of classes will continue in the region. The students in Cajamarca will have to attend classes on the weekends well into the summer break due to the loss of classes. As of today, the protest is “radicalized” according to the president of the Front for the Defense of Cajamarca, Wilfredo Saavedra Marreros, who said that the protest will take a “set of radical action” to pressure the executive branch to declare the mining project Conga as unfeasible. In addition, as of coming Friday, all markets in the city of Cajamarca will be closed as the traders will join the indefinite strike.
While monitoring the developments in Cajamarca and interviewing researchers in Lima, the overwhelming feeling, as perfectly put by one of my interviewees today is: “There is no solution to this conflict.”
Posted by Tatiana Bessarabova – MS Candidate in Global Affairs at NYU