20.04.2023.- The Amazon has historically been perceived as a land of promise and a source of raw materials for the global market. Since the first colonization until today, its territory has been exploited for different resources (mining, timber, meat, agriculture and hydrocarbons). In the last decade, the need to increase the production of critical minerals for the energy transition has accentuated this trend, generating the paradox that the green transition as it is being proposed requires an increase in extraction, with the impacts that this entails.
Today we are pleased to present the research Energy Transition, Mining Expansion and Ecosocial Conflicts in the Amazon, the result of the joint work of the Center for Applied Ethics of the University of Deusto and the Alboan Foundation, in collaboration with local organizations such as the Latin American Center for Rural Development (RIMISP) and the Agricultural Service for Research and Economic Promotion (SAIPE).
This research work, coordinated by Javier Arellano-Yanguas and María del Pilar Bernal-Gómez, arises from the need to propose useful responses in the context of the debate on the energy transition and its consequences for Amazonian populations affected by mining operations. Its objectives are to prevent the deterioration of the living conditions of indigenous communities, guarantee their rights and halt the large-scale ecological damage caused by mining.
The report is divided into two chapters that address complementary aspects of mineral resource extraction processes in the Amazon or in the headwaters of the rivers that feed the Amazon basin. The first chapter reviews the literature on the adverse impacts of mining extraction in the Amazon and the conflict dynamics it generates with local indigenous and/or peasant populations. It complements these findings with the analysis of two concrete cases in the Amazonian territory, that of the Afrodita Mining Company in the Cordillera del Cóndor (Peru) and that of the Líbero Cobre mining company in Mocoa (Colombia); the second chapter, on the other hand, focuses on the Mocoa Project, and delves into the resistance of Amazonian populations to mining projects.
The time frame of the two case studies is different. The first, that of Compañía Minera Afrodita in Peru, dates back to the late 1990s and its development during the first decade of the 21st century is well known and well documented. The second, concerning the entry of the Líbero Cobre company in the Colombian Amazon, is much more recent and, therefore, less well known. Nevertheless, both are very significant because, although in neither case have mining operations gone beyond the exploration phase, far-reaching negative impacts are evident.
“The research shows how mining can generate long-lasting negative impacts even before the ore is extracted.”
These negative impacts in advance of the extraction phase are related to: the disappointment of expectations generated by companies; the deliberate division of communities; the loss of confidence of the local population in public institutions; and the emergence of other associated social problems (mass immigration, economic dependence, gender inequality). Dynamics that, in many cases, end up facilitating the entry of external agents into the territory dedicated to illegally exploiting minerals (mainly gold), thus aggravating the aforementioned problems.
In the cases studied, both in Peru and Colombia, the outbreak of conflict is evident as a result of antagonistic interests in such a sensitive matter as mining projects. This situation often leads to violent confrontations that generate loss of life, suffering, destruction of social capital and delegitimization of institutions. Both countries have a system of legal protection whose application could avoid some of these problems, but when it comes down to it, short-term investment is often given priority over respect for the rights of local communities, especially in the case of indigenous populations.
The analysis prioritizes, in this sense, the capacity of indigenous peoples and local populations to defend their territory, including the use of legal mechanisms on their part to confront the ambition and abuses of mining companies. The study finds that environmental protection of the Amazon will only be possible through the construction of national and international alliances that make it possible to articulate strategic litigation practices for the defense of their own territory, taking as a reference their recognition in the legal system.
Other complementary strategies are also analyzed, such as those oriented towards the security of the population and the control of the company’s activities in the territory, as well as strategies oriented towards the social and economic inclusion of the communities that live there. In this sense, the authors recommend, among other things, to focus on the Indigenous Life Plans in order to understand territorial protection in a holistic way, as proposed by the indigenous peoples.
You can access the full report and the policy brief at the following links: