In December, Peru will host the 20th UN climate conference (COP 20) in Lima. Recent news from Peru sparks concern about this as the site for a gathering of activists and civil society attempting to pressure the UN to act responsibly on climate change.
Environment Ministry of jurisdiction over air, soil and water quality standards, as well as its ability to set limits for harmful substances [...]. The changes in the law also revoke the ministry’s ability to establish nature reserves that are exempt from mining and fossil fuel drilling.
The effects from mining and fossil fuel drilling are particularly alarming.
In May the Peruvian government declared an economic emergency in 17 indigenous communities along the River Marañon in the Amazon basin saying that the communities were at significant risk from oil contamination. Puinamudt, a collective of indigenous organizations, said that the government has failed to provide aid to their communities such as testing the water quality in rivers and introducing portable water purifiers to affected communities.
Even with regulations in place, illegal mining is a major environmental hazard in Peru.
“The illegal miners have pushed deep into the Amazon jungle to pan in rivers and creeks, most notably in the wildlife-rich Madre de Dios region,” said Juan José Córdova, leader of the energy sector at KPMG, Peru. “It is estimated that 30 to 40 metric tons of mercury are dumped into the environment annually and burned off after amalgamation — generally without even using rudimentary technology to protect workers’ health or capture waste or fumes.”
Despite concerns widely, the financial world responded enthusiastically to the news of Peru’s environmental deregulation:
Ratings agency Moody’s said the proposals are credit positive. “They will enhance potential output and private-sector investment, while they also address concerns in the business community about red tape that have negatively affected economic sentiment.”
All of this comes alongside news from a report by Front Line Defenders on Peru’s new ‘license to kill’ laws, which, as David Hill from the Guardian reports, “exempts soldiers and police from criminal responsibility if they cause injuries or deaths” during environmental protests.
That law, no. 30151, was promulgated in January this year and is, according to the IDL’s Juan José Quispe, a modification of existing legislation passed by the previous government. The modification consists of replacing three words – “en forma reglamentaria” – with another five – “u otro medio de defensa” – which Quispe says means that any soldier or police officer can now kill or injure a civilian without needing to use his or her weapon “according to regulations”, or by using something other than his or her weapon.
What that report makes clear is that if you’re Peruvian and you publicly express concern about the environmental and social impacts of mining operations you can expect the following: death threats, rape threats, physical and electronic surveillance, smears and stigmatization by national mainstream media, police acting as “private security” for mining companies, confiscation or theft of equipment, “excessive use of force by police” during protests, arrest, or detention, and prosecution on charges of “rebellion, terrorism, violence, usurpation, trespassing, disobedience or resistance to an official order, obstructing public officers, abduction, outrage to national symbols, criminal damage, causing injury, coercion, disturbance or other public order offences.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Peru is one of the countries negotiating in the TPP. As Peru becomes host to COP20, its recent (and not so recent) events not only raise real worries for those gathering there but also bring into stark focus the forces at play in the fights for climate and ecological justice.