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Peruvian minister resigns over $50bn pipeline betrayal of tribal community

May 05, 2013
tags:#environmental damage, #gold-mining, #indigenous people, #indigenous tribes, #mining, #Peru, #South America
by:Jack Bicker
Peru's deputy culture minister has walked out of his country's government, as energy minister pursues profit over the rights of tribal peoples.

Ivan Lanegra, who confirmed his resignation yesterday, considered his position untenable after witnessing repeated attempts by ministerial colleagues to roll back a 'consultation law' written to protect the rights of indigenous peoples.

The law, passed in 2011, descends from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and sets out a clear framework within which to ensure the voices of tribal communities are heard when international companies move to an area seeking to exploit natural resources.

In addition to acknowledging that "respect for indigenous knowledge, cultures and traditional practices contributes to sustainable and equitable development of the environment", the UN declaration also considers the cultural, social and economic rights of those

"indigenous peoples who have suffered from historic injustices as a result of their colonization... thus preventing them from exercising their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests."

Mr. Langera's resignation comes after Peruvian president, Ollanta Humala, attempted to exclude Andean Quechua-speaking communities from protection under the law, after having been persuaded by his energy minister that listening to their concerns would delay a new $50bn pipeline that is set to pass through the region.

Peru's export revenues are set to hit $30bn in 2013, and the relatively small Andean country has enjoyed an average growth rate of 6.3% over the last five years as a result of being South America's leading producer of gold, silver, zinc, lead, tin and tellurium. Mineral exports account for 60% of export revenues and 20% of all tax receipts, and have made a significant contribution to a reduction of the population living in poverty from 50% to 27.8% over the last ten years.

However, these developments have come at a cost of increasing internal conflict. Peru's national ombudsman's office estimates that 47% of social violence during 2009 was in response to "environmental and land disputes related to the extraction industry". In 2009, 33 died and over 200 were injured when police attempted to break up a peaceful protest against development in Bagua - situated in Peru's northern Amazon region.

Susan Lee, Americas Programme Director at Amnesty International, commented that;

"steamrolling over the rights of Indigenous Peoples and others most affected by rural development projects is not the way to economic development. In Peru and across the Americas, the social conflicts exacerbated by ignoring the rights and rejecting the input of Indigenous Peoples have resulted in many preventable human rights violations".

In the light of Mr. Langera's resignation, and as cases such as these continue to gain publicity, there is an opportunity for the international community to again consider how to strike the balance between necessary domestic economic development, the aims of international extraction companies, and the cultural and economic needs of indigenous communities. Yes, a firm international consensus has been reached on the importance of protecting the rights of indigenous communities, but now it is time for governments to stay true to their public commitments, even when closeted behind private cabinet doors.

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jack bicker
Jack Bicker