This begins my stream of consciousness that will hopefully provide insight into my life and my perspective on the world in which I am currently engaged in. I hope this brings interesting content to read and creates some thought provoking discussion here and elsewhere. All posts here are my opinions and they are just that… opinions. Be mindful when reading them and sharing them.
I arrived in Cajamarca, Peru at the end of August as an intern for a small international development organization based in Portland, Or focusing on renewable energy technologies and water and sanitation projects (I lump these together as “sustainable infrastructure”). My job is to assist a local NGO with post-project evaluations, some project planning, and the utilization of GIS skills and skills transfer. The work here has been very interesting and I am enamored with the people and the location.
I left Cajamarca for 10 days in the middle of November to return to a full fledged strike with road blocks, street protests, and an air of tension that was palpable. The local office was shut down on the 28th, stores were shuttered, cars were absent from the streets, and marches were present throughout the city.
The strike is a result of a local mining consortium’s plan to expand operations to a site that is environmentally sensitive in terms of the presence of lakes integral to the recharge of local aquifers providing water for thousands of local farmers. An environmental impact assessment was conducted to evaluate the potential impact of the mine but neglected to address underground water resources. Moreover, the currently producing mine has already been implicated in health issues, environmental contamination, and reduction in available local water resources.
In addition, the mine has produced a large boom in growth in the local area, driving up commodity prices as well as property values. As far as economics is concerned, this can be seen as a good thing, and has been touted as a success. However, at the same time that the local economy has boomed, the cost of agricultural products (including milk, which is the livelihood of most local farmers) has not kept pace. Therefore, the poverty that has been historically present among the countryside is deepening. Or to put it another way, the gini coefficient here is growing.
The protests here have been borne not only from the environmental issues associated with the mine, but the continuation and exacerbation of poverty. Many signs read “Agua si. Oro no” or “Agua es vida” or some variation thereof. But the undermining issue is that transnational capital and limited social programs have fundamentally undercut the local economy and people are very frustrated.
The legacy of colonialism lives on here through 500 years of exploitation. Whether it is through the Colonial Spaniards extracting gold or transnational mining companies, much wealth is leaving this area and the wealth that remains is concentrating into the hands of a few. The resources here are being exploited at the cost of the local population.
It is also ironic that mining is touted as a job producer when so many workers come from abroad or from other parts of the country. Most of the locals who are lucky enough to get jobs at the mine only benefit from low-skilled ones, where they are easily replaced. In addition, the degradation of the local environment and water resources has an intangible cost that will live on far beyond the extraction of gold and copper from this region. If there are not means to address long-term development with this in mind, then the short sightedness of the current development agenda through mining will literally mine out any sustainability to keep this area as a viable option for future generations of people to live in.
Today marks the seventh day of the strike. Last night the mining consortium stated that it was suspending the project at the disputed site. This morning however several news sources stated that leaders of the protest have called for a continuation of the strike until the government comes to the table to find a resolution. Currently plans for this are unknown. Today was planned to be the largest day of resistance thus far, with additional strikes organized in neighboring regions and Lima. As I write this I can hear the chants of thousands of people in the nearby plaza, as well as the drone of a military helicopter. So far several people have been injured in clashes between protesters and police, and one person has been killed.
Here are some of the latest headlines:
http://peruanista.blogspot.com/ (look at the November 30 posting)
I reiterate the beauty of this area. The mountains are majestic standing at over 12,000 feet around the 9,000 foot valley which the city resides in. The hills are fertile producing an abundance of food that supplies this city. The people are kind, especially in the campo. The injustice of prolonged poverty is a tragedy that plagues and overshadows the beauty here, for there is no beauty in suffering. Today is a sunny one with the hopes of some form of resolution.