Sunday, December 16, 2018
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Muted dialogue
Milagros Salazar
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Communication between mining companies and communities in dire need of repair.

Cabuyal, situated on the border with Ecuador, is the most isolated town in the northern province of Ayabaca in the Piura department. Here, the Majaz mining company could make a strong social and environmental impact with their copper and molybdenum Rio Blanco project.

But the Cabuyal inhabitants, despite their close proximity to the mining site, are far from knowing the benefits and potential risks of their neighbor’s activities.

In order to access the complete environmental evaluation of Majaz exploration, a townperson would have to travel more than 20 hours on foot, horse and bus until reaching the government offices of the Regional Mining Directorate in the city of Piura.

And, on not finding the document, the journey would have to continue on down to Lima in an additional 14-hour bus ride in order to reach the archives of the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

In its 2006 report on the Majaz case, the Peruvian Ombudsman detected that the company did not fully comply with law requiring them to make public information available.

The journey to try to become an informed community member in a mining activity zone is full of obstacles and, additionally, the communication channels between communities and companies are usually blocked.

Experts claim that if companies were to look for effective ways to communicate with the communities surrounding their projects to listen and consider citizens’ opinions as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the companies could contribute to preventing socio-environmental conflict, cooperate in environmental management and promote the townspeople’s rights.

The key to being responsible
At first sight, CSR is understood as a corporate compromise to contribute to the prosperity of areas inside and outside their domain, including worker relations, good tax standing, protecting the environment and working toward inhabitants’ well-being.

“The key to CSR is getting a company involved in a community’s development,” sustained Iván Lanegra, manager of Natural Resources and Environmental Management in the regional government of Junin in central Peru.

Then, said Lanegra, when the company links its activities to the future of these people’s, no longer acting independently, “measures to establish good communication policies are taken.”

This method of approach, where central, regional, and local government plays a central role in enforcement and promotion, depends greatly on the access and quality of information: how transparent or trustworthy it is and if it is available or not so that communities can participate as informed citizens.

But this has become a remarkable challenge since the Environmental Evaluation — which companies must show to communities as well as the state before they begin exploration— and the Environmental Impact Studies are very technical and voluminous documents that not even the greatest of environmental experts could fully revise in the term given by the law.

The modified version of the environmental study for the West Yanacocha project — belonging to the most important gold mining company in Latin America, property of US company Newmont and Peruvian Buenaventura — in the northern Cajamarca department, contains no less than eight volumes and 5,098 pages that citizens must read within 30 days to formulate their suggestions, and in the case of the evaluation, just 20 days.

However, despite the issue’s complexity, the state opted in 2007 to reduce the term for presenting observations on the evaluation from 25 to 20 days.

For Alice Abanto, the Ombudsman’s commissioner for Public Services and Environment, this feeds the perception that the state is disinterested in what the communities think, causing the social validation process of the projects to convert “into a mere formality within an administrative process.”

Clouded norms
In Peru there are very generic and weak norms on the issue of communication. The General Law on Environment establishes a company’s voluntary adoption of socially responsible policies in the zones where they operate in order to mitigate or eliminate the impacts of their operations, and also lays out the government’s duty to guarantee access to environmental information and citizen participation. But this norm is usually ignored or ineffective.

Regarding the regulation on citizen consultation and participation for approval of the environmental study, companies are obligated to carry out workshops and talks in order to gather the inhabitants’ opinions before the mineral extraction phase, but are not obligated to incorporate the opinions.

Economist José De Echave of CooperAcción confirmed that communication is not set up as a “two way” process that allows suggestions to be implemented to generate “balanced relationships.”

According to lawyer Fabián Pérez of the Center for Analysis and Conflict Resolution in the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, dialogue efforts must be understood as part of the communication challenge for development that allows information to be conveyed honestly and transparently to these isolated communities that have low education levels due to the state’s absence.

Communication is no longer just an act of good will, but an economic necessity if companies want to prevent conflict and to advance their projects, making dialogue initiation a key element for progress.

Communication and information: Blocked path

• In 2006, the nongovernmental organization Grufides discovered that Yanacocha — the biggest gold mining company in Latin America —copied two of their environmental evaluation reports word for word regarding the mining exploration stage of two different projects, which compromises the quality of these technical studies as well as the information’s validity that, according to the law, must be available to the public.

The projects in question are Yanacocha East-Basins of the Rejo and Porcon River (Peizo) and the Yanacocha East Zone-Basins of the Chonta and Quebrada Honda Rivers (Peyze), in the northern Cajamarca department.

• The communities surrounding the Blanco River project headed by the Majaz mining company in the high Ayabaca and Huancabamba provinces, have to travel between 15 and 20 hours from their towns to the city of Piura in order to access the environmental evaluation.

In the town closest to the mining company only an executive summary was left even though the law demands that a copy of the full document must be left, according to the government Ombudsman.

• US company Doe Run promotes health and information campaigns on how contamination by the toxic smelting agents used in La Oroya — located in the central highlands in Peru — can be reduced through good health and hygiene.

But environmental organizations warn that with these campaigns the company sidesteps its responsibility of significantly reducing their metallurgical plant’s harmful emissions.

According to studies, more than 90 percent of children residing in La Oroya have levels of lead in their blood above the 10 microgram per deciliter limit permitted by the World Health Organization.


Smelter and ecological tourist
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