The central government has changed ministers and previously declared a State of Emergency in four provinces of the region of Cajamarca, in view of the failure in the direct dialogue between authorities and leaders as well as the fear caused by the rise of protests against the Conga mining project. What can explain these protests and the difficulties of the central government in reaching a solution for the conflict? What can explain the rejection of an investment project worth thousands of millions of dollars that could create jobs and large tax revenue for the region itself? The Right to a Good Life is probably the main reason for this explanation.
In Andean communities, like in Amazonian communities, there is a principle well-known since ancient times related to the daily life of people: the Right to a Good Life. This is a principle that consists of fulfilling human actions in harmony with Nature, without creating conflicts in view of or “for” Nature. It is understood that Nature is a living being with whom one interacts harmoniously. In the Andes, agriculture and livestock have been historically developed following this principle. In the Amazon, the usufruct and protection of forests and rivers have developed following this same principle.
Do investment mining projects like the Conga project in the region of Cajamarca follow this same principle? If we look at the actions broadcast by the regional and local authorities, by political leaders, by a group of specialists and by the media, we can see the principle has not been respected or would not be respected, and this has resulted in the rejection of the mining project.
The Conga mining project involves an investment of 4.8 billion dollars that, besides benefiting the interested companies, would also be a benefit to the country and especially to the region of Cajamarca. According to businessmen it is technically feasible; even if lakes located in river basins are affected, they would be replaced by reservoirs that would regulate river circulation and water purification. However, Andean Communities, Rural Militia, Hamlets, Peripheral communities, and a large part (or an important part) of the urban population do not want it. Why? The experience from other mining projects carried out in the same region is the basis for that rejection.
The troubled Yanacocha mining project is an example of that contrast. This megaproject, while it has contributed and continues to contribute multi-million taxes and social responsibility jobs in favor of the population, is also known by villagers and ‘ronderos’ for the “deceitful” purchase of parcels of land to members of the Rural Community of Negritos, motivating the migration of many families and limiting others that resisted selling; it has diverted the river and has wiped out sources of water that villagers normally used; it has changed the access to means of communication that incorporated the community in its distinct sectors; it has divided the community between those who are in favor of the business and others who are against reproducing multiple conflicts between families; it has reproduced the ambition of many villagers that stopped participating in the community in order to be a part of the contracting companies or to be in service of the large mining company, “progressing” individually, negating or affecting the collective rights of their colleagues. Let’s consider the feelings of nearby communities or of neighbouring villages who view their waters as contaminated despite the fact that the mining company implements large purification systems. Or consider the case of the villages of Choropampa and the neighbouring towns that suffered and continue to suffer the effects of a mercury spill on the road close to them despite the fact that the company managed to comply with the cleaning of the area and has achieved its judicial liberation by having completed compensatory payments. We can see the number of reasons there are for this rejection.
The result is that in the outskirts and neighbouring towns of Yanacocha, the villagers’ Right to a Good Life has been altered and the same is feared in the outskirts and neighbouring towns of Conga.
Although the Conga mining project counts on a technical report of 16 volumes approved by the previous central government, the population of Cajamarca or the majority of that population rejects the project because they do not want it to keep affecting their Right to a Good Life in another part of its region. The professionals or technicians of the Conga project tried to demonstrate the advantages of constructing reservoirs that replace lakes, with the possible result of more water for agriculture and livestock, even during periods of drought. However, the population does not believe it. There is a lack of trust. What should be done?
The central government authorities have the answer. If one considers that applying police or military force can control the population’s protests, one repeats the same mistake of previous administrations. Faced with the historical lack of institutional order, the immediate instinct can generate a new political disaster with more destruction and deaths. Intercultural dialogue, ruled in the current Law of Prior Consultation (Law no. 29785), continues to be the best alternative, yet this dialogue requires an exact understanding of the Right to a Good Life.
Is it possible, by intercultural dialogue, to reconsider the possibility of a New Consultation for the affected population or to solicit an international survey to legitimize the mining project?
Keeping in mind the complexity of the mining project and its possible effects, such Consultation should have been, and can still be, in the application of Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization –in effect in Peru since the end of 1994. An international arbitration does not guarantee a change in opinion in the villagers, ‘ronderos’, or the affected population in general, unless they deal with the antecedents or structural causes of their rejection. The Consultation would serve to save the legitimacy of the Conga mining project’s holders, but above all, it would serve to save or direct other multi-million investment projects that do not negate the Right to a Good Life.