Peru Support Group statement, 12 January 2009
NEW ENVIRONMENTAL AND DEVELOPMENT THREATS IN PERU. ACTIVISTS ‘CRIMINALISED’.
The Peru Support Group (PSG) is concerned that recent government decisions in Peru will lead to a major expansion of mining in the Río Blanco area and a renewed attempt to criminalise its critics.
The case against 35 environmental and human rights activists and local politicians from the Piura region (northern Peru) has been reopened. They were accused of terrorist offences by a local civic association Frente de Unidad de la Comunidad Segunda y Cajas (FUCSC). The charges, based on a series of newspaper articles, are thought to have been brought because the accused were involved in the organisation of a local (non-binding) referendum in September 2007 on the Río Blanco mining project. The result registered a resounding ‘no’ to mining activity in the area.
The case was considered closed. Piura’s provincial public prosecutor dropped charges against the accused on October 17th 2008. The defence lawyer and member of human rights organisation FEDEPAZ, David Velazco said that the allegations were not based on facts nor did they have any legal basis. However, it appears that the regional office of Piura’s Public Prosecutor has over-ridden this decision and passed the case on to DIRCOTE – Piura (the Peruvian Police force’s regional counter-terrorism directorate) to continue the investigation and eventually bring charges against the accused before the regional court.
The timing of the decision to re-open the case, on December 24th 2008, coincided with Peruvian Government’s approval of Monterrico Metals’ (MM) request to acquire an additional 27 mining concessions located in the Provinces of Huancabamba and Ayabaca around the eight core mining concessions of the Río Blanco Project, representing a total area of some 28 000 hectares. The request, which was filed by the majority shareholder of the Company, Chinese consortium Zijin, in April 2007, was formally approved by Supreme Decree 024-2008-DE dated December 1st 2008 and signed by the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Energy and Mines, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs in representation of the Ministry of Defence.
Furthermore, as the Peruvian Constitution of 1993 prevents foreign investors from carrying out operations within 50 km (30 miles) of the national border and as these concessions are located adjacent to Peru’s border with Ecuador, special government approval was given declaring the project to be of public necessity and national interest.
MM says that the new concessions would ensure more “control of the development of mining activities in the area“ and would protect the “integrity of the ecological conservation area proposed for Río Blanco”. The company also adds that “the social viability of Río Blanco is protected by eliminating any activity of other mining companies in the vicinity of the Project. The Company reiterates that any exploration or mining activities in these new concessions would require proper environmental permits and other approvals from the Peruvian government and respective surface land owners.” (www.monterrico.co.uk – company press release 30/12/2008).
An interpretation of this is that MM wants to stop others benefiting from mining in adjacent areas and will in due course go through the processes to start exploring, and if feasible, developing these new concessions. If MM just wanted to protect the surrounding environment, it does not need to gain control of the areas by obtaining mining concessions. Others interested in the MM share price also interpret this as opening up new mining possibilities (www.iii.co.uk – Momentum returns at Monterrico Metals, Edmond Jackson 08/01/09). Furthermore, MM itself on October 6th 2006 gave a presentation to investors in London at which it suggested that one of the ‘upsides’ of the project was that it had the potential to be a (central) part of a wider mining district that could incorporate other deposits in the region as well as on the other side of the border with Ecuador. The whole issue of the social, developmental and water pollution effects of the Río Blanco development in its initial and, to some extent its expanded form, were discussed in PSG’s 2007 report on Mining and Development in Peru, With Special Reference to The Río Blanco Project, Piura. It would appear that many of our fears set out there were not ill-founded.
The Peru Support Group feels that the re-opening of the case against the 35 environmental and human rights activists and local politicians from the Piura region, together with government approval of additional concessions to the mining company show a worrying level of hostility by certain State institutions and apparent disregard by the Peruvian government for the concerns of the local population and indeed to the whole issue of regional development. Despite the Company’s assurances that the newly approved buffer zone “ensures contained natural resources and the environment will be respected in accordance with company policy”, the size of the proposed mining area presents real social, developmental and environmental concerns not only in Peru, but perhaps also in neighbouring Ecuador.
The Peru Support Group (PSG) was established in 1983 to campaign in the UK for the rights of Peruvian people, particularly the most vulnerable, and to support them in becoming more effective participants in the development of their country. It has campaigned on human rights issues.
Monterrico Metals was incorporated in the UK and is a publicly traded company with corporate headquarters in Hong Kong, and principal operations in Peru. Minera Río Blanco Copper (formerly known as Minera Majaz) is the company’s Peruvian subsidiary. On April 27th 2007, a Chinese consortium, Xiamen Zijin Tongguan Development Co. Ltd, acquired an 89.9% share in Monterrico. Some 10% of Zijin’s shares remain listed on the UK’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM), a junior market that provides trading facilities for shares of smaller companies.
DIRCOTE (Dirección Contra el Terrorismo or Counter-Terrorism Directorate) is the branch of the National Police of Peru that is responsible for Peru’s anti-terrorist law enforcement efforts. It emerged in 1983 as the result of government measures to stop increasing terrorist activities (mainly from guerrilla groups, but also from paramilitary groups). The first name was Dirección Regional Contra el Terrorismo, then it changed its name to Dirección Nacional Contra el Terrorismo (DINCOTE) and finally Dirección Contra el Terrorismo, as it is known today (http://www.fotw.net/flags/pe%5Ep.html).
Contact: Peru Support Group
Unit 3, Canonbury Yard
190a New North Road
London N1 7BJ
Tel: 020 7354 9825
Peru Support Group statement, 12 January 2009