Peru: Moving Beyond "Dog in the Manger" Extractive Policies

Issue: Advocacy
Country: Peru
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In the weeks after taking office this July, the new Peruvian government has introduced significant changes to its extractive sector. One of the most significant is the new law requiring consultation with indigenous groups on all policies that impact them.

This is a substantial departure from the policies of the last decades that have given oil, gas and mining investors abundant incentives at the expense of local populations' rights. President Alan Garcia, in office until this year, took this vision to the extreme in his famous "Dog in the Manger" op-ed (peruviantimes.com). Writing in El Comercio (elcomercio.pe), Garcia accused traditional communities and small landowners of behaving like the dog in Aesop´s fable—unable to make productive use of the hydrocarbons, minerals and land in their region, but unwilling to allow others, such as large private investors, to do so instead.

Rather than chastizing indigenous populations for impeding large-scale extractive investments, the new law enshrines their right to consultation. However, there are two particular challenges to the law's implementation. One is the question of who qualifies as indigenous in Peru. Only the indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin? Or also the Quechua and Aymara peoples living in traditional peasant communities in the Andes? And what about the traditional coastal peasant communities? Similarly, does the new law apply to those who are indigenous by birth, language and culture, but who have moved to the cities? And what about non-indigenous peasants and small producers who are in open conflict with large-scale mining projects?

A second challenge is determining what will happen when the state and the local communities being consulted cannot come to agreement. The law clearly establishes that in the case of disagreements, the state has the last word, but it clarifies that the government should carefully consider the input of local peoples. However, national indigenous organizations have demanded that local communities' decisions be considered binding, and grassroots leaders and social movements see in the new law an opportunity to veto projects they oppose; both expect that their opinions will be respected.

Despite these ambiguities and different interpretations, the law represents a new governmental stance and a new framework for the oil, gas and mining sector, and it poses critical questions regarding what this will actually mean for the companies, the government and local populations.

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