By Paula Bayarte
Lima, May 30 (EFE).- While each of the 118 social conflicts catalogued by the Peruvian government over the last 18 months had its own causes and characteristics, a careful observer can discern commonalities.
Disputes related to resource extraction lay at the heart of many of those conflicts and the virtual disappearance of organizations capable of acting as mediators and conciliators has allowed minor quarrels to grow into major ones.
Sixty percent of the conflicts were connected to mining, which accounts for 10 percent of Peruvian gross domestic product.
In the southern region of Apurimac, years of tension between area residents and Chinese miner MMG reached a tipping point last month as people who were displaced to make room for the Las Bambas mine – which supplies 2 percent of the world’s copper – invaded the site, prompting management to suspend operations.
The occupiers accuse MMG of failing to deliver on promises to invest in improvements.
“There are pending commitments in Las Bambas. The matter at issue in the mining sector is how the profits of mining are shared,” researcher Maria Isabel Remy, director of the Institute of Peruvian Studies, told Efe.
One of the nine conflicts that the government categorizes as a “crisis” is in the Amazonian region of Loreto, where residents are at odds with the Energy and Mining Ministry over the future of a project that Peruvian officials say was badly run by the previous operator, Argentine company Pluspetrol.
While complaints from local populations about environmental damage from mining and other extractive industries are common across the country.
Remy contends that the decline of unions and other kinds of associations representing workers, peasants, and communities is another factor contributing to heightened conflictivity.
“The second-tier organizations that existed in the country have practically disappeared. They were already in very profound crisis before the (Covid-19) pandemic, but articulation and coordination, especially in the rural ambit, have gone down,” she says.
The absence of those organizations not only makes resolving conflicts harder, according to Remy, it opens the door for opportunistic outsiders to exploit situations for their own benefit.
At the national level, Peru is contending with an even greater than usual amount of political instability as leftist President Pedro Castillo – with no prior experience of public office – struggles with a Congress dominated by his opponents.
The administration, which took office last July, is on its fifth minister of Energy and Mines.
And Remy says that the government’s ideological reluctance to use force against protesters creates vulnerability.
“Politically, a government of the left or one that calls itself of the left will not go in and repress with blood and fire,” the researcher says.
The government’s lack of tools for conflict management and non-lethal means of preserving order, creates “an opportunity for collective action that will not be repressed easily,” Remy says.