Rediscovering and Rebuilding the Collective Identity of Peru’s Marginalized Peoples

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Photo: T. Hilde

After a thought-provoking lecture on the Peruvian economy by Fernando Villarán in the morning, we headed off around noon to visit the famous couple, Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira. During the two-hour drive from Lima, we were again amazed by the surprising Peruvian landscape, in this case comprising a sun-baked desert and shiny blue sea, lonely satellite stations and striking billboards, deserted shabby houses and luxurious coastal vacation villages.

Just when everyone was dozing off, we turned onto a bumpy road, surrounded by various crops and simple houses. A few minutes later, we saw clouds of bright bougainvillea sticking out from the fences, and we were welcomed off the vans by many warm smiles and the scent of earth, flowers, and ocean. There, we were fortunate to visit the under-construction “Santa Barbara Cultural Center of Hidden Memory,” the lovely cottage, friendly people, and finally, the loving couple of Ms. Baca and Mr. Pereira. A prominent Grammy Award-winning Afro-Peruvian singer and global legend of Latin American music, Ms. Baca was quite amiable. Wearing a simple pink-orange dress and a pair of hand-crafted earrings, she personally helped set up lunch for us. She has been a key figure in the revival of Afro-Peruvian music, and yet, she was nothing like the arrogant divas but more like a sweet grandmother.

After enjoying delicious, authentic Peruvian Chicken, we sat down around the dining table, eagerly leaning in to hear from our hosts. Mr. Pereira first gave us a brief explanation about the idea of this center. Ever aware of the tough situation facing marginalized peoples in modern Peru, the couple has devoted lots of energy to fighting discrimination against black and indigenous Peruvians. That’s why Ms. Baca joined President Humala’s new government in 2011 to help him implement his vision for social inclusion in Peru’s deeply unequal society, and why she serves as President of the Commission of Culture of the Organization of American States (OAS). The couple has researched extensively the history of Peruvians of African descent, who traditionally have lived mainly along the Peruvian coast. They have walked the 3000km coastline twice to visit the communities and check on their status over the past 20 years. They have found that the situation in these communities hasn’t improved and has somehow worsened because of domestic violence and the invasion of international business mode – the local peasants have been pushed inland as Andeans migrated to coastal areas. Nevertheless, the couple found that the Andeans who have joined Afro-Peruvian communities came to recognize each other’s culture and build up a surging, mixed identity (particularly through music) that is shared by both groups. The couple are excited about this cultural blend and want to pass along the possibility to other communities in the country.

The reason why they chose Cañete is because of its diverse regional ethnic groups and its complicated dynamics: this area used to be the habitations of various immigrant laborers and slaves – Afro-Peruvians, Chinese and Japanese. Three major historical cycles of agriculture correspond to these groups – sugar cane produced by enslaved Afro-Peruvians, general agricultural products like fruit picked by Chinese descendants, and cotton harvested by Japanese descendants. These groups comprise a special, diverse dynamic in the region, in which lie heavy histories and colorful cultures. Being active defendants for marginalized peoples and the diverse culture of Peru, the couple realized that in this place they could build a space to capture the identity of all the races and reveal their hidden histories. This ambitious idea developed into the significant cultural center we visited. The blueprint of the center on the beach contains a conference room, a library of various texts, and a museum of cultural antiquities, which is currently under construction. This admirable couple moved from Lima to Cañete in order to supervise building. They hope that this place will help people learn the history and culture of the various inhabitants of Peru and appreciate their work and contributions to the country.

There was a quiet pause after Mr. Pereira’s talk as everyone was impressed by how great this cause is and how much they have committed to it. Ms. Baca, after a short consideration, talked about the meaning of the place to her. Ms. Baca recalled that as a descendant of Africans herself, she suffered racial discrimination in her youth, and this discrimination persists today in her country. Then she told us that her happiest moment after she won her first Grammy award was when the local indigenous people came out in the streets to thank her for bringing recognition of them to the world. At that moment, she realized how much she is related to Afro-Peruvian culture and people, and how much they have suffered. She understands that there is a complicated dynamic in the local communities, with their different marginalized ethnic groups, cultures, and economies. She is also aware that the younger generation tends to move away from its roots because of their under-recognized status as Peruvian citizens and an unsatisfactory education system that does not appreciate local culture and history. She is worried about the loss of traditional culture with young people eager to discard their identities and dive into a global, commercialized world. So she made up her mind to build up a place to connect to her roots, a place for everyone to discuss openly about their cultures, a place where young people can appreciate their identity and spread this awareness to the world. Since she has been the first Afro-Peruvian Minister of Culture in the history of independent Peru and a winner of Grammy awards, she wants to use her recognition and influence to build up a space where there’s social inclusion and respect for every individual culture, and a collective identity for the country so that no culture will be forgotten. I believe that there must be a painful chapter in her life because of her occasionally saddened face and the tears that welled up in her eyes. This experience is what has built up her strong commitment to fighting racial inequality so that Peruvian children today can live in a more equal society where they can find their roots and enjoy a collective identity. What a strong and noble woman!

Afterwards, everyone in our group asked questions about the current status of marginalized peoples, their culture preservation and the social development, and Mr. Pereira answered all the questions with patience and passion. During the whole presentation, Ms. Baca didn’t say much, just quietly looking up at her husband, nodding from time to time, sometimes lightly kicking his ankle to remind him of a point.

Bathing in the summer breeze after our discussion, I started to think about how much impact and change this center might bring to the local marginalized people, the younger generation, and Peruvian society in general. The mission of the center is so grand that everything else seems minute somehow, yet the challenge is so big that it may make people wonder about its attainability, how much can it achieve, and how much of a contribution it can make to the world. The world is now rocketing towards globalization and to further economic and political convergence; yet, we are losing various other precious cultural and environmental assets. How I wish that this place could really exist someday in the future, a place where people can have a united, collective identity, where people can appreciate their hometowns and their roots, preserve their lost memory, bring in the younger generations, and bridge the connections. It is a world not consumed by the pursuit of simple material well-being, but a place where we can hold on to our own qualities while enjoying the riches of other cultures.

– Yuanyuan Gong

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Cañete Reflection

We drove south of Lima with the expectation of visiting Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira. Little did we know of the land that we were visiting. The trip took approximately two hours and our eyes soaked in the scenery. Dry desert hills and flat lands all designed the coast of Peru. Little neighborhoods built on the hills mimicked shanty towns with many houses that were partially completed. Luxurious apartments were built along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The highway we drove on separated the two sides while grandiose billboards decorated the road. Giant three-dimensional billboards like I have never seen before. From Inka Kola advertisements to designer brands and fashions. Such marketing emphasis caused me to wonder about the designated audience. Who lived in the province of Cañete?

Helado (ice cream) stands, one after the other, lined part of the highway. The occupants of each stand were eager for customers to pull over and purchase their product. This business is one indicator of the climate of Cañete. A province that experiences two seasons: sunny and sun-less. We were lucky to visit during the sunny season that lasts from January to April. The sun-less season, from May to December, means that the clouds simply block the sun. Random plots of agriculture also piqued my interest. Due to the majority of the land being dry, the vegetation on agricultural land stood out like a sore thumb in its rich, healthy color. Cañete’s topography is unique in nature just like the people that dwell within its boundaries.

Before reaching Susana Baca’s and Ricardo Pereira’s house we detoured through a small town. The dirt road through the town made it somewhat difficult for the vans to maneuver. We could feel every bump, bend, or rock on the path. The homes in this neighborhood looked like two-story apartment townhomes. I eagerly looked out of the window to observe the inhabitants of the town. A small group of children played soccer in front of the buildings. Other residents tended to their own agendas as they walked about the streets. At this point my curiosity was still piqued because I desired to know more about the people of Cañete.

Upon reaching our destination we drove past a farm with cows, bulls, chickens, horses, and other animals. Susana Baca’s house met our gazes as the vans entered through the gates. The lengthy one-story house next to the large museum warehouse had an open courtyard space with a beach in the backyard. Beautiful pink trees adorned the yard and complimented the bamboo wood on the house. Ms. Baca’s house was absolutely lovely. The farm, beach, museum, and acres of land all made up this unique establishment.

We were welcomed with opened arms and smiling faces. The next order of business was lunch. We all enjoyed “pollo a la brasa,” also known as Peruvian charbroiled chicken, rice, potatoes, salad, Inka Kola, and chicha morada (purple corn) juice. For dessert we ate mangoes and grapes. After chatting, walking around, and exploring the place we all gathered together for discussion and what felt like story time. Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira began to share their experiences and describe the land of Cañete.

Twenty-five years ago, when Peru faced turmoil due to the Shining Path revolution, droves of Andean people migrated to the coast. The Andean people encountered Afro-Peruvian, Chinese, and Japanese people in the region of Cañete where they chose to dwell alongside them for refuge. In years past, three cycles of agricultural development described the reasons for each ethnic group’s settlement. One cycle being the cultivation of sugarcane by Afro-Peruvian slaves. The second cycle was the production of other food products by Chinese workers. The final cycle was cotton cultivation by the Japanese. Cañete is now the home of an abundant mestizo culture.

Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira spoke highly of awakening memories in order to re-establish a sense of identity in the people of Cañete. Memories that are triggered by food, music, rhythm, and movement. This need for a recovered identity bridges the gap between cultures and unifies the land. Now you may be asking yourself, why does Cañete’s culture need revival? One reason is portrayed through the illusions that are displayed throughout the land. Remember when I referenced the ginormous and elegant billboards? Those billboards facilitate the illusion of a wealthy society as a whole when in fact poverty is directly across the street from those same advertisements. Many shanty towns built on the hills and within the desert lands are without a proper road system for safety measures. Those same roads, for example, are what the poorer citizens have to travel on and across in order to clean the houses or the beaches of the rich. The same beaches where the poorer citizens that clean them are not allowed to swim. Words from Susana Baca -“that is discrimination” (translated).

In the land of Cañete, the color of your skin often determines your financial status. The darker one’s skin the poorer one is and the lighter one’s skin the better-off one may be financially. Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira both believe that the possibility of development lies within one’s roots and identity. If one’s identity can be recalled, and the gap across cultures bridged, then an identity as a whole will define the land and be the catalyst for change and advancement. But what does that look like? The answer to the question is continuously being unveiled. For example, many people in the land are finding that they enjoy playing the cajón drum that originates in Afro-Peruvian culture but dancing to it with Andean dance movements.  The government of Peru has to realize what Cañete is experiencing in regard to a mix and blend of cultures, a drastic divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” and the disunity throughout the land.

The province of Cañete is known for its delicious food and melodious music. Susana Baca and Ricardo Pereira both have realized Cañete’s potential and have decided to use its assets to revive its rich mixed culture in order to invoke prosperity. Before visiting Cañete we were unaware of its background and history. Now we have a better understanding of the land and its people and I am interested to know how things will unfold. A policy analysis or discussion can be formed on this very topic.

– Beverly Luckett

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Growth or Development: An Inspiring Lecture Given by Fernando Villarán

“Growth,” in an economic context, is oftentimes used interchangeably with “development.” Governments tend to prove their economic development by demonstrating strong growth macro/microeconomic indicators. However, growth does not necessarily mean and is not sufficient for development. In his lecture, this view was reiterated by Fernando Villarán, former Minister of Labor and current president of SASE Consulting and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Management of Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University.

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Villarán started his presentation with a humorous explanation for being late: he was caught in a traffic jam, which was an outcome of Peru’s skyrocketing increase in vehicle sales. That anecdote smoothly transitioned to his first part of the presentation: an overview of Peru’s strong economic growth in recent years. As statistics show, Peru was a leading performer among Latin American countries and even the whole world in terms of economic growth: Peru achieved a GDP growth rate of 5.1% in 2013, and a projected rate of 6.0% in 2014 (first among Latin American countries). One of the major contributors to Peru’s GDP growth is its soaring trade volume: from 2005 to 2013, Peru’s imports have grown from $980 million to $3390 million and its exports have also tripled. Peru also takes pride in its consistently low inflation rate, low public debt, very high international reserves, and ever-decreasing poverty rate, all indicating a stable, solid, and energetic macroeconomic environment.

So, is it safe to conclude that Peru has attained its development goals and increased people’s happiness? “Not necessarily.” Villarán expressed his own concerns during the lecture. He pointed out three major challenges that threaten Peru’s real development: great inequality, underperforming governance, and the shadow (informal) economy.

First, beneath the halo of Peru’s GDP growth are huge regional disparities. Lima and other major cities concentrate most of the country’s resources and greatly skew the income distribution. Behind the reduced overall poverty rate is the stagnantly high poverty rate in numerous regions. That translates into a shockingly high Gini Coefficient of 48.1 (World Bank, 2010). Second, the Peruvian government does not enjoy great confidence from its people, in spite of its economic achievements. During the past decade, the Peruvian government’s popularity among its people has been plummeting. The most criticized problems include corruption, inefficiency, and improper regulations. Last but most importantly, Peru’s massive and growing informal sectors complicate its socioeconomic development. For instance, illegal mining is a “prosperous” industry that employs numerous illegal workers and does not provide them with essential social welfare. The government’s inability to control the growth of illegal extraction, illegal logging, and planting will threaten social stability and curb real development in the long run.

Mr. Villarán’s lecture reminded me of Julio Guzman’s presentation “Why Peru Does Not Graduate,” held in the UMD School of Public Policy last year. Guzman posed a series of questions about development and concluded that development, apart from growth and social welfare improvement, also needs comprehensive second generation reforms. These reforms not only mean education of young Peruvians and training to low-skilled workers, but also diversification of resources and industries, which may be painstaking.

Inspired by Villarán’s lecture, I’ll summarize the challenges that Peru is facing. Externally, Peru lacks incentives and strategies for diversifying its exports. Internally, Peru is threatened by government corruption and a kind of natural resource trap (Dutch Disease). To achieve real development and graduate from its current status, Peru may need a “4-Go” reform: Go Transparent, Go Diversified, Go Privatized, and Go East (develop further the market in the Asia-Pacific Region).

– Jianing Wu

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Meeting with Fernando Villarán

How time flies! None of us can believe this is already the last day of this amazing and memorable trip. This long day began with a meeting with the former Minister of Labor of Peru, Fernando Villarán. Instead of meeting at his SASE office like the course group did last year, this year our meeting was held at a beautiful small Antonio Ruiz de Montoya University, where Mr. Villarán currently lectures as Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Management.

Mr. Villarán is very knowledgeable and amiable. He emphasizes several times that we should feel free to interrupt him during his talk if there are any questions or ideas we want to share. His arguments were brought to life by his rich experience and myriads of reliable source of information. The topic of the talk was “Recent Development and the Dilemmas of the Peruvian Economy,” divided into two parts: a presentation on the orthodox view of Peru’s recent economic growth and a discussion about what Mr. Villarán argues are the actual sources of Peru’s economic growth.

There is no denying that Peru’s economy has been booming in recent years and under the current Ollanta Humala administration. Many commentators assume a trickle down macroeconomic strategy. In a sense, Peru has become a Latin American economic star. International studies rank Peru 8th in GDP growth from 2002 to 2013 compared with the rest of the world, which is a very good position. The number is even better when compared to Latin America alone: Peru rose from 3rd place to the very top within one year, according to a 2014 study. What is more, Peru enjoys a very high international reserve, especially in US dollars (32% of its GDP), and a very low public debt rate (18% in 2013).

The poverty reduction statistics are promising too. As the poverty rate has plummeted since 2007 (-16.6% in 2012), the rate for extreme poverty has also decreased 5.2% compared with 2007. It would be so easy to go along with this optimistic picture and get lost in the image shared by the World Bank and foreign investors that modern Peru is an economic paradise and star of Latin America.

However, nice macroeconomic performance is far from the whole story. Mr. Villarán soon burst this bubble by alerting us to several major challenges to the current Peruvian economy.

First, the poverty rate is, after all, an average number. If one wants the truth, one has to look at the details. When breaking it down into regions we can see that poverty is concentrated in some regions in particular; three in the southern mountain areas and one in the north. Take one of these regions, for example; it is a nice place for the lucrative mining business, but the people there live in conditions of severe poverty.

The next problem on the list is the poor quality of education in Peru. According to 2012 PISA test results, Peru is last in all measurements, a status that has remained for quite a long time now. The simple facilities and small scale of the university we visit today is a perfect example, especially when you know that this is already a quite decent and high-ranking educational institution in Peru.

Moreover, informality in Peru hurts this fledging economy in a more direct and brutal way. The informal sector in an economy may be a source of unfair competition to formal firms and also deprive governments of potential tax revenue and diminish a government’s capacity for regulatory oversight. More than 65% of the business in Peru is informal; the number may be as high as 80% when you consider how many people are actually involved in informal industries in Peru.

The Global Competitiveness Report (2012-2013) gives us a more proper and practical view on Peru’s economic position in the world. Seen below are the 12 pillars of competitiveness and stages of development of an economy. The report shows that Peru ranks in the middle, being in the second stage, which is currently an efficiency-driven economy. All in all, overconfidence and complacency at this moment are the biggest threats.

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– Linlin Zhu

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Reflections on the Experiences of Truth and Reconciliation, with Salomón Lerner

Thursday we met with Salomón Lerner Febres of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. Salomón Lerner was the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following Peru’s war with the Shining Path, an insurgency that has had a presence in the country since 1980.

I could present an extensive run-down on Peru’s conflict with the Shining Path, but previous generations of UMD students going to Peru have already done that task. You can find their reports here and here. In short, the insurgency took hold in the country’s interior, sweeping along with it vulnerable populations already under-served by the state. Eventually the conflict made its way to Lima. The government’s response was a military one. After 20 years, 70,000 people were killed or disappeared and 600,000 people were displaced.

At this point, a more beneficial use of this blog would be an explanation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate. Secondly, I will provide a review of the take-aways from Salomón Lerner’s talk, especially regarding the features of the conflict.

The Commission

The commission was informed by the experiences of other similar commissions in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, and South Africa. Its mandate had six components, namely to determine the following:

  1.      Facts about the violence that had occurred over the last 20 years
  2.      Underlying causes that motivated the conflict
  3.      Who the victims were
  4.      Who were the parties responsible for perpetrating violence
  5.      Fair reparations for the victims
  6.      Institutional reforms that could be proposed.

The Commission began work in September 2001, and with the help of regional offices collected 16,000 testimonies. Aside from its fact-finding responsibilities, another goal of the Commission’s work was to provide an outlet for grieving. Organized vigils and public forums gave voice to those who had been affected by the conflict.

Determinants of Conflict

Among the findings of the commission were some of the determinants of the conflict. First, there were two main historical factors that directly fed into the successful development of the Shining Path: natural divisions within Peruvian society and ideological extremism. Secondly, the Peruvian government’s response handled the conflict on a military level but failed to address underlying development issues.

The first catalyst for conflict had long predated the Shining Path and continues to this day.  Divisions between Peruvians fall along ethnic, class-based, and geographic lines. Furthermore, social divisions often manifest themselves in the form of outright discrimination. Andean communities in the highlands and Amazonian communities on the frontier are far removed from the centers of power in Lima, and Lima has been known to neglect the interior by giving more policy attention to macro-level issues in the capital. Governance in Lima is largely directed by a privileged “white” class of elite Peruvians, as opposed to purely indigenous descendants. Even domestic migrants from the countryside to informal housing areas in Lima’s periphery find themselves utterly underserved by the state, which fails to provide desperately needed public services.

The second catalyst for conflict traces back to the already-existing fragmentation of the Peruvian left at the time of the Shining Path’s formation. This environment was fertile ground for an ideologically fundamentalist group to take root. The Shining Path’s amalgam of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist thought thrived. As is common with other fundamentalist groups worldwide (jihadists, for example) the group argued that their ideology was an alternative to Peruvian state failures, and that human collateral was necessary for the success of the overall mission. They also imagined for themselves a larger role for the success of the global communist movement at large. The Shining Path’s success in Peru can be at least partially explained by the lack of better political alternatives.

In terms of government response which aggravated the conflict, the state foremost considered the Shining Path a security issue rather than a development issue. As such, they responded with military force. In cases where the Peruvian army encountered villages aligned with the Shining Path, atrocities were committed. In villages that were sympathetic to the state, the army armed supporters, giving rise to a phenomenon of paramilitaries. In some sense this was successful. But although they managed to confront the Shining Path in the interior, the policy had the adverse effect of driving Peru’s war to the capital.

In large part, politicians in Lima had remained unaware of what was happening in the country’s interior until violence was brought to their doorstep. Unlike his predecessors, Fujimori acted swiftly against the Shining Path. This also had adverse effects. Fujimori’s anti-terror laws were wielded indiscriminately at best, and targeted his political dissidents at worst.

Reflections

There are two main conclusions that I took away from Salomón Lerner’s insights. I focus on these because they echo quite closely the dynamics at play in other conflict areas that I study in the Middle East. Foremost is the necessity for comprehensive development inclusive of vulnerable populations. The second is the role of the military in driving politics.

One element of the inclusion of vulnerable populations is economic, and this aspect has long been propagated by economist Hernando de Soto. In El Otro Sendero, de Soto advocates property rights for the poor and the incorporation of vulnerable populations into the formal economy.  The economic side of inclusion is what directly matters to poor Peruvian families trying to make a living. The other side of inclusion is inherently political. People certainly develop a strong sense of political exclusion but on the scale of day-to-day subsistence, it is not nearly as obvious as economic exclusion. It still remains an issue, as our class has seen in Madre de Dios. Much of the reason for why the native community of Infierno sought to engage in a development partnership with a business entity is because they felt fundamentally neglected by the state. To this day, the Peruvian government withholds transfers to the Community because they are relatively much better off than surrounding areas. The Community has learned that it cannot count on the national government. Their success is because of their own efforts.

The second thing that really struck me was the military’s historically consistent involvement in politics. For starters, the current President is of a military background, and over the last century in particular Peru has had more military presidents than civilian presidents. Salomón Lerner also pointed out that military and civilian leadership in Peru are not always walking in step. He himself had some questions regarding to what extent the military was informed about the problems in the interior and refrained from communicating that to the civilian political center. It is this institutionally self-concerned navigation of politics that can breed distrust toward the government and civilian dependence upon military force to contain conflict or even for the polity’s ability to digest civil discord.

– Nadine Rada

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Gold in Peru – Blessing or Curse?

On Monday afternoon we arrived back in Lima after 4 exciting days in the Peruvian hinterland. Leaving the lodge and our dear guides Jony, Oscar and Rodolfo was hard but we were all glad to finally get a good night’s sleep and we enthusiastically dumped our damp, smelly jungle clothes at the front desk for laundry. The people dealing with these bio-hazardous materials are truly not to be envied.

On Tuesday it was time to get back into an academic environment. We drove to the Universidad de San Martin de Porres where we met with Miguel Santillana. Miguel holds degrees from Manchester University, ESAN Graduate School of Business, and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú and is an expert in environmental economics and policy. He describes himself as an American-Peruvian economist and his main research interests are the workings and impacts of destructive industries in Peru.

The most important of these is gold mining. Peru’s territory is very rich in minerals and especially in gold, which is found in 24 of Peru’s 27 provinces. Rising gold prices on the world market have led to an ever-increasing number of people being in involved in the business over the past decades. Alongside big and medium-seized companies this also increasingly includes small and very small (“artisanal”) operations (also called ASM – Artisanal and Small-scale Miners). Most of these are informal or illegal operations. There is an important distinction between these two concepts: “informal” means miners that take active steps towards legalization. This is achieved by following a 6-step process which is required by the government and involves getting concessions for mining from land owners and producing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the mining site. Peru uses the Anglo-Saxon type of mining laws, which means that you can have a concession for mining in a certain area without owning the land. In this case you need to get another concession from the actual owner of the land in order to be allowed to mine on it. For most small and artisanal scale miners (also called ASM) this step is close to impossible. Preparing an EIA is also very difficult for them, as most have not even completed secondary education. The term “illegal” is used for those that do not even try to obtain a formal license for mining. These are often the worst operations in terms of environmental impacts and human rights violations.

Currently, the government requires all operations to fully legalize by April 19th of this year in order to not face legal consequences. However, the large majority of ASM miners will be unable to complete this process. This has sparked a lot of protests among the miners and demonstrations against this law in Lima and the main gold mining regions.

On Tuesday, we were able to see firsthand the consequences that mining has brought to the region of Madre de Dios. We drove out from Puerto Maldonado on the Interoceanic Highway through some of the shantytowns that are spawned along it because of the gold rush. Many houses in these areas are just provisional shacks built with plastic walls and the availability of health care services and security are very low. The situation is even worse in the towns that lie further away from the highway in the jungle, where often not even electricity and running water are available.  Huge stretches of the land are deforested in order to extract gold. During the extraction process the miners use a lot of mercury, which creates serious health problems and also leads to the soil becoming uninhabitable for plants. Thus, big parts of what used to be the rainforest now looks like a desert and will not be able to hold any vegetation in the foreseeable future.

Another big problem is that this environment of lawlessness and failure of the state to provide basic services leads to severe human rights violations. Many poor people, mainly from the rural Andean regions, are working for very low wages and under extremely unhealthy conditions. According to one article, the average age for miners in this area is lower than 40. Often even children are forced to work. Furthermore, there are many instances of trafficking of girls for prostitution.

How could it come to this mess? According to Santillana, the main problem is the disorganization of government and failure of its different institutions and levels to work together effectively. For example, a big problem is that of overlapping concessions for land use. Different agencies give out different kinds of concessions for land, e.g. ownership of the land, logging rights and mining concessions. These multiple layers often create confusion and make it extremely hard for miners to obtain legalization. This could be simplified by reorganizing the process of granting concessions and improving communication between the different government agencies.

Important improvements could also be made on the technological side. There are low-cost techniques for gold mining available that avoid mercury and cyanide, which miners currently use. These technologies should be promoted and the inputs for illegal mining, mercury and cyanide, should be much more strongly controlled and regulated by the government.

Another important step is the empowering of local communities. Currently, most decisions concerning the mining regions are made on the federal level but there is very little funding for local communities. Local communities should be enabled to organize themselves and provide basic services by giving them more funding.

The government’s current strategy: blow up equipment of illegal miners and arrest many of them. But this is an ill-suited solution of the problem. It destroys capital, and imprisoning people is expensive. There are already 78,000 convicts for a prison system with a capacity of 30,000. It would be much more useful to cooperate with miners, helping them to legalize and empower local communities to organize themselves and provide basic services, so as not to create an environment of lawlessness where human rights violations and environmental degradation are common.

– Roman Hennig

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Lima’s City Planning

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Meeting at the Municipal Palace, Lima. Photo: T. Hilde

Latin American cities are famous for their “urban diseases”, such as mass unemployment, overcrowding, water and power shortages, and slums. Does Lima, the capital of Peru, have these problems, too? How is the city government dealing with poverty reduction and infrastructure building? Will the expansion of the metropolitan area put too much pressure on the environment? With these questions in mind, we stepped into the Municipal Palace of Lima and had a discussion with two city officials – one in charge of the BarrioMio Program, whose aim is to improve conditions in Lima’s surrounding shantytowns, and the other in charge of urban planning in Lima.

The two officials first gave a brief introduction of Lima’s population growth: in 1931, Lima had approximately only 450,000 residents – this number grew to 1,800,000 in 1959 and 6,500,000 in 1995. Now, the population is almost 9 million, among whom one million live in shanty towns on the surrounding hills.

The rapid population growth in the city has posed serious problems to the city government. For example, after 2004, building shanties on the hillsides was no longer legal. However, new immigrants have never stopped such activities. These shanties usually do not have access to power or running water and are mostly far away from the center of the city.

According to the officials, one of the reasons why population growth in this city has been so rapid is that migrants have nowhere to go but Lima. Unlike other Latin American countries, which have at least one more large city in addition to their capitals, Peru has only one city whose population exceeds one million – that is Lima (together with the seaport of Callao, it forms a contiguous urban area known as the Lima Metropolitan Area). In fact, Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, has a population that is only about one tenth of that of Lima. As a result, when rural residents decide to move into an urban area seeking more opportunities, they come to Lima without considering moving to other cities. As more and more migrants continue to arrive, the city government finds it more and more difficult to tackle the problems caused by population growth.

In addition, the city faces transportation challenges. As the city “had no plan at all in history” (as one of the officials said), the road system of Lima still has a long way to go to be fully effective. For example, as there is no road directly connecting the northeast region of Lima and the north region, people living in the northeast have to travel to the center of Lima first and then go to the north, which is a waste of money and time (think the Metro system of Washington D.C. – if you want to take a train from Silver Spring to Rockville, it will take you almost an hour because the train has to go to downtown DC first, while a bus running directly to Rockville will only take you about 30 minutes).

As introduced by the officials, the Lima city government has already taken some measures to solve these problems. For example, the program of BarrioMio has been set up to provide public services in shantytowns and thus improve the living conditions of new residents. However, the city has neither adequate resources nor the capacity to do a lot of things it intends to do, and “we cannot do that” was the phrase that these two officials reiterated most frequently during our discussion.

To a large extent, this lack of resources and capacity is due to a fragmented government system. The city is roughly equivalent to the Province of Lima, which is subdivided into 43 districts. The Metropolitan Municipality of Lima is the utmost authority of the entire city while each district has its own local government and local political leaders. What makes things worse is that, since Lima is the capital of the country, its urban planning is often contravened by the central government. For example, if the central government wants to build a metro line in Lima, it can do so without coordinating with the city government. This three-tier government system creates high negotiation costs in infrastructure-building programs in Lima and lowers the efficiency of government bureaucracy. Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that one of the officials said that “the most serious problem is that the population in Lima is fragmented and disorganized, and so is the government.”

– Yuanxin Liao

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