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[Interview] A closer look into the Minera Majaz mining conflict

[Interview] A closer look into the Minera Majaz mining conflict

Nicanor Alvarado Carrasco, coordinator of the Vicarate for the Environment in Jaen, Cajamarca, is one of the spokespersons for the peasant communities of the region of Piura. The mining company, Minera Majaz, subsidiary of the English Montericco Metals, is operating illegally on their territories. “This mine company is a threat to the environment and to people’s rights to food and water.” states Nicanor. A group of young professional ecologists from the CATAPA organization organized a series of conferences for Nicanor in Spain and Belgium, as well as certain activities in London. This European conference tour was an opportunity for Nicanor to share the environmental threats and human rights violations that the northern regions of Peru are being exposed to.


Nicanor Alvaradez Carrasco: "I think that the world citizens really need to take a good look at what is going on in the Upper Amazons. The Upper Amazons are very rich in resources and are part of our human patrimony. Sadly, most of the Amazons are being concessioned to foreign companies who exploit them in non-environmentally friendly ways. Some exploit them illegally even, like Minera Majaz. This is something that cannot be permitted!"

"This is a moment for the world citizens to show that world citizenship exists. You from the North can help stop illegal mining companies, like Monterrico Metals, from contaminating our land, killing peasant leaders, and from torturing the active Minera Majaz opposition."

Do the peasant communities benefit at all from the exploitation of the mines?

"The resources found are not given added value. Buckets full of gold and copper are extracted from Peruvian soil every day, but it is not transformed here. It is sold as a raw material and only transformed abroad, making the benefit for our country very small."

"If we knew that the copper extracted from these mines was going to really benefit our country then, maybe, using an alternative technology that does not have major consequences on the environment and on the people, we would support these mining companies. This could happen if the resources were used to, for example, give electricity to our communities who don’t have any, or be used to create artifacts like, for example, your recorder. This would create jobs and make our quality of life better. But if it’s to help a foreigner get richer while our land gets poorer, then we prefer to continue living with our coffee plantations, our sweet water rivers, our mist forests, our mountain ranges and our culture."

Minera Majaz, like other mining companies, is a threat to the environment. What would happen if these mining companies continue their activities?

"If each of these mines is open between 15 and 20 years, in 20 years there will be nothing left of the Amazons, it will just be a thing of the past. These mining companies won’t just have an impact on the biodiversity, but on the cultural diversity of the region as well. There will be a degradation of the citizens and also of the citizen’s culture."

What kind of behavior has Minera Majas shown towards the peasant communities of the region of Piura?

"In the four years of struggles with this matter, we have an average of 44 aggressions against the opposing active peasants and many death threats. Two peasant community leaders have been murdered. 50 cases of torture have been reported. 200 of us are being pursued legally and will be imprisoned in the next few months."

"On February 2nd there was a murder attempt against me. They tried to shoot me but luckily I was not touched. Many journalists have been killed by gun shot. Everyone who opposes the Minera Majaz company is victim to threats, imprisonment or death."

"How many are going to be killed for opposing this mine company? No one knows if we are going to live tomorrow. It is possible that this will be the last interview I will ever give. It is possible that tomorrow the other active opponents of the mine will be dead. That is the risk we take."

What has been the role of Alan Garcia’s government in all this? Have you received any support from him?

"Alan Garcia’s government is supporting the mine companies explicitly and implicitly. Before, regions of the Amazons were rarely sold to foreign companies. Now, almost all the land of the Upper Amazons has been concessioned to foreign countries. The government bets on easy money, on fast money."

"What is scandalous is that last week, military troops were sent into the region of Yanta, one of the areas belonging to the Minera Majaz concessions. These elite forces were sent there with the intention of opening a pathway for the Montericco Metals company, who had not been let in by the regions’ inhabitants in previous attempts. These peasant communities have radically opposed the mining company and have never let them enter their territories, even when it was the exploratory phase of the project. Now, the military is forcing it’s way in, which means that in the next few days we can expect the death of hundreds of the active peasant opponents."

A week ago was the International Water day. In Lima, Peru the Social Pact for the Sustainable Use of Water was signed. Many of the countries representatives signed it, including the Minister of Agriculture. The Minister of Energy and Mines’ signature was absent. What is your take on this?

"While the Minister of agriculture signs the pact on the sustainable use of water, the government, through the Minister of Agriculture, gives concessions to mining companies in places where water rises. There are two sides to the story, a double speech."

"I don’t understand, and will never understand, how our government can sustain and maintain a mining company like Minera Majaz that is there illegally. It is known that their way of operating is violating many laws. It is also doing everything it can to squash it’s opposition."
After all they have done, only now have decided to engage in dialogue with the peasant communities. They are asking us to let them stay. But it is impossible to forget what they have done, and even now, their actions continue to be inadmissible.

You already did a conference tour last year, what kind of responses did you get? Have they been as positive this time round?

Last year CATAPA had organized conferences with the English Parliament and the European Union parliament. The responses were positive. For example, a commission of English scientists was sent to the concerned area of the region of Piura to study the case closely.
This year we have had very interesting reactions from the environmentalist movements in Spain, Belgium and the UK. They have shown much solidarity and have been very receptive to the environmental situation in the Upper Amazons.

To protest against Minera Majaz’s illegal practices, CATAPA has organized a manifestation in front of the Montericco Metals headquarters in London. Also, it is going to organize an in-depth study of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment of the Rio Blanco project. Can you explain?

This document is 2000 to 3000 pages long and it explains how the company will be exploiting the land of the region of Piura. Unfortunately it is in English, a language that we, members of the peasant community, don’t speak. We are looking for professionals to help us read and study this document. Many human rights and environmentalist organizations are already willing to help us.
Also, in the next few days the Mayor of the Peruvian districts concerned, is organizing a popular consult in Peru. We hope that the journalists and the international media will assist and follow this process of popular consult. The peasant communities will go there to be able to choose voluntarily and freely the type of development model that they want. I think that for one time in our lives we should have the right to feel like first class citizens and have the right to choose our own destiny. Why do they have to impose on us a model of development that we don’t want? The mine activities are against the principle of sustainable development because they affect the ecosystems and our cultures. We are for sustainable development as it is stipulated in the U.N. mandate.
Would this type of illegal activity be allowed anywhere else? Would Belgian people let their land be destroyed by companies who have settled there illegally? I don’t know… But we, the peasant communities of the region of Piura, won’t let that happen! It is a question of common sense, a question of dignity. We might be very poor, but we are also very dignified.

Mining in Peru

There is nothing innocent about Peru! People in the world image Peru and think of Incas and Machu Picchu and its noble past civiliations. However, this era is well and truly over! Peru is still under the thumb of colonialism, just the names are changed! Corruption is rife, and so is crime and human rights abuses. Mining companies are making a small minority mightily rich, and the indigenous and rightful owners are suffering torture, death and death threats, loss of land, water pollution and loss of food. This is the 21st century, but all there is from the world is silence! Where is justice? This country is being raped, polluted and people are being abused, all quite "legally". APEC and all other countries should place embargoes on Peru, not support it through APEC and free-trade.