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Mining Companies in Ancash September 6, 2011

Posted by Joshua Shapero in Doctoral, Graduate, Individual Fellowship, Peru, Uncategorized.
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The valley of Conchucos is a beautiful place—green all year long. Separated from the valley of Huaylas by the Cordillera Blanca range, it is watched over by snowy peaks, ancient shrines, and caves with carvings and paintings. But the river that runs through the southern part of the valley, Rio Mosna, is not as clear as it used to be. Now it carries runoff from the Canadian mine Antamina to the Marañon,

Valley of Conchucos

Valley of Conchucos

then to the Amazon, and eventually to the Pacific ocean. When my Quechua teacher and I visited a town above the banks of the Mosna, I found all the residents at work on a communal project. They were building a road to bring bulls into the arena for the coming festival. This communal labor, called a faena, is a common way of getting things done throughout the Andes. Traditionally everyone works together for the benefit of the community, doing things like cleaning irrigation canals, building mountain paths and fixing churches. Playing the anthropologist, I asked my teacher what would happen if someone didn’t think all this work was worthwhile just to bring a bull into the arena. He responded that it wouldn’t be likely, since they are being paid well for the labor. It turns out that this faena breaks the pattern—it was also a pilot plan, or a community project paid for by municipal money. But the pilot plan is very closely tied to the huge sums of money given by mining companies like Antamina to nearby municipalities.

A bit later that day, while taking refuge from the sun under a shaded bus stop, a troop of uniformed guardias appeared. These were local security officers funded by the same money as the pilot plans. My teacher struck up a conversation—why was the town shipping in vegetables instead of growing them, buying milk instead of producing it? Look at all the unused, fertile farmland and pasture around! Are they teaching their children the local agricultural practices? What would they do when the mines pack up and leave? Will they be able to easily return to the unpaid faenas? Hearing this conversation I felt something like déjà-vu as I realized that Detroit and Flint, towns within an hour of my home, had gone through more or less the same socio-economic crisis. How would such a crisis play out in these remote towns high in the mountains?

While this paints a bleak picture of mining, a different picture emerges from daily life in Ancash. Friends sported coats, shirts and caps with mine insignias, every poster for a cultural event I saw had a mine logo in a corner. I attended the opening of a new archaeological excavation near Huaraz, completely funded by a mine. The teachers I met had laptops emblazoned with the insignia of the mining companies that donated them—except for those whose machines had disappeared among sticky fingers on its way to their school. All of this presents a dilemma: how can locals, academics and politicians react responsibly to the presence of these companies? Should they be rejected completely because of the intense environmental and social disturbance? Should they be accepted because of their contribution to national and local economies, because of their support of cultural projects? Personally, I believe that they should at least be subjected to intense investigation by disinterested parties and required to either fix their problems or get out. Yet there is no way around one key fact: mines are there to make money. This raises the question of whether compromise will ever really be possible.

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