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Government opens up mining concessions near Ecuador border
Magali Zevallos Ríos
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Indigenous lands threatened by new mining activities.

The global economic crisis has done little to deter new mining development in mineral-rich Peru.

According to the fourth annual report on mining conflicts prepared by Peruvian nongovernmental organizations CooperAcción, Fedepaz and Grufides, which was presented July 15, 2 million hectares of land were concessioned off for mining between last year and the first semester of this year, totaling 19 million hectares.

Mining concessions in Peru’s departments that border Ecuador – Amazonas, Cajamarca and Piura – are growing faster than any others.

Anthropologist Frederica Barclay notes that both the Peruvian and Ecuadorian governments are granting concessions along the border in areas that have historically been the sites of conflicts between the neighboring countries.

There are currently eight concessions in this area on the Peruvian side and four in Ecuador.

Alliance broken
The largest concession in this border area of Peru will be run by Canadian miner Dorato Resources.

According to the company´s Web page, Dorato holds approximately 800 square kilometers [300 square miles] in the Cordillera de Condor, in the Amazonas department, and also holds other concessions across the border in Ecuador, both of which are gold exploration projects.

The area where the company will operate in Peru is the ancestral home of the Awajun and Wampis indigenous communities, which between April and June protested a series of investment decrees issued by the government to promote investment on their native lands. The demonstrations turned bloody June 5, in a clash against police officers and indigenous protesters, leaving 34 people dead.

The area includes Cenepa, the site of a 1995 armed conflict over a border dispute that lasted weeks, even though Ecuador and Peru only signed the peace treaty in 1998.

But Peruvian citizen Carlos Ballón Barraza holds the land title for the property.

According to Marco Huaco, the legal advisor for Peruvian organization Racimos de Ungurahui, this is because Peruvian law prohibits foreigners from holding mining concessions within 50 kilometers of the border.

Also, the development of mining along the border in the Awajun and Wampis native lands would be a violation of the binational treaty signed by both countries in 1998 to preserve ecosystems and promote development and preservation of indigenous communities in the region.

“The Peruvian state explicitly and systematically decides to favor extractive industries endangering the conservation of natural resources and the right to life and health of the indigenous populations that have inhabited these areas for generations,” Huaco said, adding that the government has presented no legal argument for the concession in this ecologically vulnerable area.

Huaco notes that a 2006 report by the governmental National Natural Resource Institute, or Inrena, calls for the protection of the Awajun people in the Cordillera del Condor area to preserve their quality of life and cultural values.

“The impact of mining exploration and exploitation could directly affect the conservation objectives” in the area, it added.

“The state has violated not only national legislation — Article 2 of the Mining Law — but also Article 17 of the International Labor Organization´s Convention 169,” Huaco said, referring to the text on indigenous peoples. Both say the state must stop outsiders from entering indigenous lands and taking advantage of the native peoples’ lack of knowledge of the law to take their native lands, Huaco added.

Mining vs. indigenous population
Zebelio Kayap, president of the Development Organization of the Cenepa Border Communities, an umbrella group of 56 Awajun and Wampis communities, says that the only attempt at a participatory process was in 2004, when the Ichigkat Muja-Cordillera del Condor National Park was created.

The process took more than 30 months and was led by the Inrena and culminated with the park´s creation in 2007, with an area of close to 153,000 hectares (378,000 acres). But the government agency reduced its size to just over 88,000 hectares (217,000 acres).

On that occasion the indigenous communities demanded titles to their land, but “the only response we´ve had from the state is that they don´t have the financial resources to proceed with the title and demarcation process,” said Kayap.

“We realize that the policy of the current government is to hand over our lands without considering what these lands mean for us, for our economy and our cultural and spiritual development,” he said.  “We´ve been preserving our natural resources for centuries [and] for the defense of our land, we´ve fought in 1995 in the Cenepa War.”

Barclay says that their participation in the Cenepa War and alliance with the Peruvian armed forces has made their sense of this land belonging to them even stronger.

“That´s why they feel cheated,” Barclay said. “They were allied with the state in a time of war, and those lands are now being given to mining companies without consideration for what their lands mean to them.”

Illegitimate mining
Another miner operating on both sides of the border is Rio Blanco Copper, a unit of British Monterrico Metals, which was recently purchased by Chinese mining giant Zijin.

In Peru, Rio Blanco Copper, under its former name Minera Majaz, has been trying to push forward a giant copper project in the Piura region. In a non-binding vote in September 2007, three surrounding communities voted overwhelmingly against the project, arguing that it would destroy their local environment, including precious cloud forest.

Julia Cuadros, of CooperAcción, said both companies failed to obtain the free, previous and informed consent of the local communities, ignoring the importance of indigenous lands.

“These concessions were given in areas rich in biodiversity and that are environmentally fragile,” she added.
—Latinamerica Press.


Mining along the border threaten local communities. (Photo: Marco Huaco)
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