Featured image: Las Bambas is potentially the second largest mine in the world in terms of copper production. Despite the opposition of communities, the project continues under construction by the MMG company supported by the Peruvian state. (Source: Environmental Justice Atlas)
Mining conflicts are not uncommon in Latin America, but the Andes now resembles a war zone. In Peru – the world’s number-two producer of copper, zinc and silver – many peasant groups are revolting. Mining accounts for 12 percent of Peru’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 57 percent of its exports. As it’s mining export grows, so does it’s number of mining conflicts.
Clashes between demonstrators and the authorities between 2015 and 2016 left four dead following the opening of the Las Bambas mine – owned by Chinese companies – displaced thousands of people.
But Peru is just one hotspot. A recent study ‘did the math’ on the link between growth in mining exports and growth in environmental conflicts across Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
The correlation is almost perfect, thereby debunking the carefully crafted myths around new and better corporate social responsibility and sustainable mining. The study was based on Environmental Justice Atlas data from 244 environmental conflicts.
The El Cerrejon mine in Colombia is also one of them. The Colombian Government left the structure completely in the hands of foreign capital – not only with regards to its administrative, structural and financial aspects, but also including rights on all the territory that such exploitation embraced.
Entire populations of indigenous peoples and farmers were forcibly displaced. Polluting the only available water sources was just part of a strategy to make the remaining communities move away when investors wanted to expand the mine. With billions of dollars at stake, anything goes.
What happens in the Andes is related to what happens elsewhere. The last half century has been marked strongly by what economists call ‘the theory of comparative advantage’. This proposes that local communities specialise is a limited number of commodities which they can then trade globally.
But when this model is taken to extremes, the so-called externalities – costs to society not recorded on the company balance sheet – bite back.