Stephanie Boyd is a Canadian film maker and journalist who has been living and working in Peru for the past 16 years. Her films have been broadcast on Al Jazeera, the Sundance Channel, TeleSur, Russia Today, Press TV and other networks and won several international awards.... which hasn’t stopped Peruvian authorities from censoring them. The Devil Operation, her latest film, exposes the dangerous link between mining corporations and private security firms that specialize in espionage, kidnapping and torture. Stephanie doesn’t get invited to a lot of embassy parties.


Stephanie Boyd is a Canadian film maker and journalist who has been living and working in Peru for the past 16 years. Her films have been broadcast on Al Jazeera, the Sundance Channel, TeleSur, Russia Today, Press TV and other networks and won several international awards.... which hasn’t stopped Peruvian authorities from censoring them. The Devil Operation, her latest film, exposes the dangerous link between mining corporations and private security firms that specialize in espionage, kidnapping and torture. Stephanie doesn’t get invited to a lot of embassy parties.

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When the police are paid by the mine

It was the coldest night of 2012 in Peru’s southern Andes when Jaime Borda, a representative of the Catholic Bishop of Sicuani’s human rights office, stopped outside the gates of the Tintaya copper mine. The previous week a protest over allegations of environmental contamination and other abuses by the mine had turned into violent conflict, resulting in the deaths of three civilians at the hands of police and more than 100 wounded.

On the evening of 28 May, Jaime, along with a human rights lawyer and the state district attorney, were investigating a report that police had detained protesters inside the mine’s compound. They were accompanied by Sergio Huamani, a soft-spoken leader of the local defence front.

The mine’s security allowed the district attorney and lawyer to enter the compound and made Jaime, Sergio and their driver wait out front in their truck.

They did not wait long.

Police officers in riot gear soon swarmed the truck and dragged the three men to the ground. They were beaten, threatened and called ‘dogs’ and ‘terrorists’.

‘I thought they were going to kill us,’ said Jaime. They were taken to a secret police station inside the mine where they were forced to stand for nearly 48 hours in freezing temperatures. In all, 22 people were detained without warrants or legal counsel.

Jaime and other victims have filed a claim in Britain against the mine, then owned by Xstrata (which has now merged with the Anglo-Swiss transnational Glencore). The case could be heard some time this year.

Last year, the British court admitted an email the company’s lawyers had tried to suppress. Written by the company’s then-director Charles Sartain to its senior South American manager about a month before the protests, the email proposed a ‘direct, proactive and strong approach’ to confront community leaders whom he referred to as ‘sons of whores’.1 Jaime is hopeful about the case, but says compensation is not enough – he wants to prevent such incidents from happening again.

The uncovered agreements require the police to provide 24-hour security for the company’s property, in exchange for salaries, food and lodging

While in detention he was struck by the close relationship between police and the mine’s security. The police station inside the mine’s compound was unorthodox and suggested a partnership. Jaime remembers it well: a single, large room, made of sturdy concrete with a tiled roof, furnished with simple desks and chairs and a bathroom for the officers’ use. There were handwritten calendars on the wall outlining the officers’ tasks and charts noting their rotations over several months. This was not an emergency set-up in response to the crisis. The officers had clearly been occupying the space for a while.

Whose protectors?

A month before the protests, I had visited the mine with provincial government officials. Our visit was unexpected and we were stopped by one of the mine’s vehicles. A Peruvian police officer stepped out with a bright yellow vest from the mine over her uniform.

She asked to see our identification.

We asked to see hers.

‘Are you a police officer or do you work for the mine?’ I asked her.

‘I’m a police officer and I work for the mine,’ she replied.

My companions were outraged and began shouting: ‘How could a police officer work for the mine? Wasn’t she paid by taxpayers’ money? Did she answer to a foreign company or the Peruvian people?’

These incidents at the Tintaya mine fuelled an investigation by human rights groups that discovered contracts between oil, mining and gas companies and Peru’s national police. Through freedom of information requests, 118 contracts were obtained, dating from 1995 to the present, including a contract for the Tintaya mine, now called Antapaccay. This contract was extended ‘indefinitely’ in May 2013.

The agreements require the police to provide 24-hour security for the company’s property, in exchange for salaries, food and lodging. Most stipulate that officers use their government uniforms and weapons, with some including special provisions for riot police should an uprising occur.

Maritza Quispe, a lawyer at the non-profit Legal Defence Institute (IDL) in Lima, says the contracts are legal, but unconstitutional. ‘Peru’s constitution states that the role of the police is to maintain order and internal security,’ explains Quispe, adding that receiving payment from a private company compromises police neutrality.

Quispe presented the case to the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States (OAS) this May. The commissioners called on the Peruvian government to stop issuing the contracts. Her next step is to file a case with Peru’s Constitutional Court, one of the country’s highest judicial bodies.

Smoking gun

The Peruvian contracts have provided the ‘smoking gun’ for an issue that plagues mining operations around the world.

In Papua New Guinea, security guards and police paid by Barrick Gold’s Porgera Joint Venture mine have been accused of sexual abuse and gang rape since the 1980s.

The most recent incident occurred on 25 March, when police raided a settlement near the mine and burned down houses. Officers were accused of gang raping indigenous Ipili women and assaulting men during the raid. Barrick admits they provide ‘limited assistance’ to police in the area but claims no human rights violations occurred during the raid.

Everlyn Gaupe was raped when she was a teenager by the mine’s security guards. She travelled to Canada in May to ask the government for help and gave a stark testimony: ‘Can you imagine a young school girl being brutally beaten and gang raped on the edge of a river of bright red chemical waste from the mine?’2

The company started a remediation programme for victims of sexual assault in 2012. But Catherine Coumans from Mining Watch Canada says the programme only considers women raped by the mine’s security guards and does not include victims of police officers paid by the mine.

Barrick’s relationship with police in Tanzania has also come under fire. According to a Tanzanian government report, 65 people have been killed and 270 injured by police responsible for security at the company’s North Mara Gold Mine. Human rights groups says the real number is much higher and cite more than 300 violent deaths at the mine since 1999.3

Mining Watch has called on the Canadian government to create an Ombudsperson’s office to handle human rights abuses at Canadian mining operations overseas. There is an international convention called the ‘Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights’ for extractive companies, but it lacks teeth. Companies decide what to report and there is no enforcement mechanism. Barrick and Glencore are both proud members.

As the problem deepens, rights defenders are now becoming victims. Jennifer Moore, a member of Mining Watch Canada, was detained in Peru this April with John Dougherty, a US journalist, for showing ‘Hudbay’s Hoax’, a film critical of a Toronto-based company.

They were released after four hours and left the country on advice from their legal counsel. A few days later, the Peruvian government issued a statement banning them from returning. They were accused of working on tourist visas (even though the film screenings were free) and ‘altering public order’ – a serious offence in Peru. Human rights lawyers called their detention ‘illegal’ and a violation of the right to freedom of speech.

Governments and companies seem to have forgotten the basic principle behind public law enforcement: in order for it to be fair and impartial, officers cannot be paid by private companies to protect their own interests. Until this is understood, the list of abuses will continue to grow.

Stephanie Boyd is a Canadian filmmaker and journalist who has been living and working in Peru for 20 years.

In the top image, police come up behind a protester opposed to the Tintaya Copper mine in 2012. Their violence later resulted in three deaths. By Miguel Gutierrez

Leigh Day and Associates, 21 July 2016,
Mining Watch Canada press release, 9 May 2017,
Raid/Mining Watch press release, 22 September 2016,

Tax avoidance: the damage done


An oil spill clean-up in the community of Nueva Alianza, in Peru's northern Amazon region. © Barbara Fraser

A worker from Peru’s state-run oil company tries to hammer a piece of wood into a gaping hole in the country’s northern pipeline. He fails. Repeatedly. The oil continues to gush with alarming speed and force. Dead fish float belly-up in the black slime.

By the time the spills were stopped this August, over 4,000 barrels of oil had poured into a tributary of the Peruvian Amazon – source of a fifth of our planet’s fresh water. Dozens of indigenous villages were left without drinking water and children were covered in angry rashes.

Leonardo Tello, director of a local radio station, produced a report illustrating these horrific images. He is angry, frustrated and heart-broken. Over the past 19 years the government has registered 190 spills, most affecting the Amazon rainforest.

Peru has one of South America’s fastest growing economies, fuelled by exports of natural resources. But the country never has enough funds set aside for environmental disasters or monitoring. So pipelines continue to rust and burst, and indigenous communities’ potable water is replaced with contaminated fish stocks.

Where are the public funds? The answer is a sad litany of corruption, weak tax legislation and the lure of offshore banks. An investigation by Peru’s Institute of Legal Defense (IDL) found over a 100 Peruvian citizens and companies among Mossack Fonseca’s ‘Panama Papers’ clients.1 This elite group reads like the society pages: television personalities, politicians and oligarchic families owning beer, football and sugar companies and sporting an ancestry traceable back to the Spanish conquerors.

With such cosy tax shelters, it’s not surprising that Peru’s wealthiest 10 per cent pay just over five per cent of the nation’s taxes. In Britain, Italy and Switzerland, this group pays more than 25 per cent. Even in the United States the top 10 are good for 14.2 per cent. But despite this April’s police raids on the Lima offices of Mossack Fonseca, illustrious clients have so far escaped charges. Bank secrecy is legally enshrined in Peru – no need to register foreign bank accounts or companies here.

India has done a better job at going after the tax baddies. The South Asian nation held a four-month tax amnesty this year after the Panama Papers revealed about 500 of its citizens with money in offshore accounts. Violators could pay a tax, surcharge and penalty to avoid prosecution. By the end of September there had been more than 64,000 declarations and the government expects to raise an estimated $4.5 billion.

But the declarations represent ‘only a fraction of the country’s undisclosed earnings’, according to the BBC. They don’t include money ferreted away in Swiss banks and other tax havens which could amount to around $500 billion. India’s web caught the sardines, but the big sharks swam free.

Faith in phantoms

Back in Peru the biggest earners – corporations exporting resources like oil, minerals and gas – enjoy legally sanctioned tax avoidance. José de Echave, a former vice-minister of the environment, says Peru ends up subsidizing the billion-dollar mining industry. When companies buy goods and services for their businesses they receive a tax credit, and because extractive industries export their products, they aren’t charged sales tax on the goods they produce. They can use their tax credits to get money back from the government, especially in years of bad prices.

Last year Peru’s tax office gave more money back to mining companies than they paid in taxes. De Echave thinks 2016 won’t be much better.

'The government doesn't give us anything. Why should we pay taxes?'

Antamina, one of the world’s largest copper-zinc mines, sprawls across Peru’s desperately poor central Andean mountain range. The company is owned by some of the world’s richest corporations: BHP Billiton, Glencore, Teck and Mitsubishi. But during the mine’s first four years of production, it didn’t pay any taxes on profits. That is zero tax dollars for an area that lacks basic public services like adequate healthcare and education.

De Echave thinks that Peru, like many other countries in the Global South, believes in ‘a kind of phantom: we think we need favourable tax laws and weak environmental legislation to attract companies. But miners need rich geological resources and there aren’t many of them left in the world.’ He maintains that the extractive industry should pay taxes to offset environmental and social costs.

Peru lacks quality public services for the majority of citizens, including good schools, hospitals and public transport. The wealthy few – the biggest tax violators – simply pay for private services.

But when the Panama Papers scandal broke, there was a marked lack of public outcry. Why weren’t the masses rallying in the streets? Luisa Garcia, an IDL investigator, sees a failure of mainstream media to connect issues that affect Peruvians’ daily problems with tax evasion. Her investigation revealed two realities: greedy elites who avoid their responsibilities and don’t pay taxes; and a poor majority for whom even entering the formal economy is a pipedream.1 Over 70 per cent of Peruvian workers lack formal employment: they may not pay taxes, but they don’t receive any benefits either.

This leads to another, much darker theory. In countries with high levels of corruption, where a sizeable chunk of tax revenue ends up in the pockets of government officials and their friends, who cares if taxes are paid?

This answer was brought home to me by a street vender in the northern Amazon, a gregarious Kukama woman who sells barbecued fish and bananas at a bustling port. Business is booming at her creaky wooden table under the stars. But ask her about taxes. Who could afford the trip to the big city to register with Peru’s tax office? Wouldn’t it require an accountant? Computer literacy? Risk hefty fines?

She ends her rant by giving me a hard look. ‘The government doesn’t give us anything. Why should we pay taxes? All they do is steal our money.’ It’s what I’ve heard so often in my 19 years working as a human rights journalist: ‘The government doesn’t care. They don’t represent us.’

For many South Americans, their only interaction with the state is when police are sent to quash social protest and their family members are arrested, injured or killed. ‘Why should we pay for this?’ Logical question.

Munching on contaminated fish, I remember the schoolteacher who refused to pay his taxes in the US because he wouldn’t support a regime built on slavery, the extermination of indigenous people and the invasion of Mexico.

‘If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution.’ These words of revolt were penned in 1894 by Henry David Thoreau, inspired by a night in the local jail for his fiscal sins. The experience galvanized him to write a famous essay, ‘Civil Disobedience’, which inspired Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

I don’t know if my fish seller and the millions of other low-income informal-sector workers across the Global South are part of Thoreau’s revolution or if they are just trying to make ends meet. But the thriving informal markets across the Global South are testimony that something is rotten in the State of Tax Collection. If people don’t see a benefit from paying taxes, there will be little incentive to do so or to hold companies and wealthy violators accountable. Governments need to clean up their own houses, and provide quality public services, for an effective challenge to tax avoidance to stand a chance.

Stephanie Boyd is a Canadian filmmaker and journalist living in Peru. Her most recent film, Karuara, People of the River, is about the Amazon.

  • ILD Panama Papers series
  • Peru’s independent media under attack


    Journalist Rafael Leon by Supreme Court of Lima

    A blow for press freedom occurs just as the country prepares for a new ultra-right government, writes Stephanie Boyd.

    On Tuesday 3 May a Peruvian court celebrated World Press Freedom Day by convicting renowned journalist Rafael Leon of defamation for an opinion article that criticized a right-wing journalist. Leon was given a one-year suspended prison sentence and must pay nearly $1,800 in damages.

    Somewhat ironically, Leon's article reprehended Martha Meier for slandering the then-mayor of Lima in an article she wrote for the conservative El Comercio newspaper. León accuses Meíer of trying to damage the mayor’s character with insults and low blows ‘without providing a single argument that would evidence a discrepancy or misunderstanding.’ He concludes the article by asking Meier to apologize to the mayor for ‘practising irresponsible journalism.’

    Many nastier words have been published about Meier and her writing. Gustavo Gorriti, an award-winning investigative reporter, once wrote that the ‘reasoning and intellectual level’ of Meier’s articles could be ‘summed up in three words: poo, pee, bum.’

    Rafo Leon was far more gentlemanlike, refraining from personal jibes and focusing on the libelous and unprofessional nature of Meier’s piece.

    Perhaps Meier left Gorriti alone because she didn’t want to draw attention to his succinct appraisal of her work, or maybe encouraged by the conviction against Rafo Leon, she will come after Gorriti next.

    The question is, why wasn't Meier charged with slander for writing that the mayor's government was ‘the most pathetic’ in the city's history and that her staff were ‘an inept club of squeegee kids?’

    Perhaps a look at Meier’s political career and alliances sheds some light. She has run for Congress (without success) several times, first with now-disgraced president Alberto Fujimori who is serving a lengthy prison sentence for corruption and human rights abuses, and recently with his daughter, Keiko Fujimori. Meier is a vocal defender of Papa Fujimori’s bloody regime and has called for his release from prison.

    During his decade in power, Fujimori stacked the judiciary with his supporters and gained control of major press outlets, including all open-signal television stations. Human rights groups say Peru’s judiciary is still not independent and is often manipulated by political forces.

    Although Meier was fired last year from El Comercio for ideological disputes with the editor, she is still a member of the powerful Miro Quesada family, Peru’s version of the Murdoch dynasty. The family owns 78 per cent of Peru’s newspapers and several television stations including the influential business paper El Comercio and Canal N, Peru’s version of CNN. Her dismissal from the paper calls to mind that famous scene in the Godfather film when Michael Corleone says to his brother, ‘Don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.’

    With such influential family and friends, is it any wonder Leon was convicted?

    In any case, the ruling is a blow for press freedom in Peru just as the country prepares for a new ultra-right government, led by a Fujimori majority in the Congress. Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori is also within a hair of capturing the presidency in run-off elections this June.

    Peru’s National Coordinating Office for Human Rights (CNDDHH) says the sentence ‘not only violates the rights and freedoms of journalist Rafo Leon, it also presents a clear warning for the independent press,’ and threatens to ‘break its critical spirit’ and prevent the media from making ‘charges against the constant abuse of power.’

    PEN International and the Inter American Press Association have both criticized the ruling and launched campaigns to support Rafo Leon.

    Two weeks ago another Peruvian journalist, Fernando Valencia, was convicted of defamation by a Peruvian court for criticizing former president Alan Garcia in an article.

    In a chilling move, the judge in charge of Leon’s case refused to let him make a statement after his sentence was read. ‘I have the right to speak here and I want to say that I’m in disagreement with this sentence,’ said Leon. ‘I live in a democratic country, with everyone else, while you live in an island of authoritarianism.’

    Let’s hope Peru’s fragile democracy survives this new threat to its free press and is not swallowed by the growing island of authoritarianism.

    Sign the Avaaz petition in solidarity with Rafo León.

    Send a letter to Victor Ticona Postigo, President of the Judiciary: [email protected] with a copy to the Peruvian ombudsman, Eduardo Vega Luna at: [email protected]

    Peruvian elections: for the Right or the Right?

    No Keiko protesters

    Protesters at the No Keiko march in Lima on 5 April. © E.Cabellos/Guarango

    A few evenings ago in San Francisco, a woman from Peru’s Andean highlands stood before hundreds of elegantly dressed people in simple farming clothes and sang the ballad of her struggle against the US-owned Newmont Mining corporation. At the end, she received a standing ovation. Her name is Maxima Acuña and she was receiving the prestigious Goldman Award for environmental defenders.

    In 2011, Acuña refused to sell her farm to the company blocking their proposed Congas Mine expansion project. Since then she has faced persecution from Peruvian police and armed forces. She and her daughter have been beaten, her home has been burned down, crops destroyed and animals murdered. In a devious move, the mining company sued her for squatting on her own farm. Maxima lost the case even though she has legal title to the land, but with help from a local environmental group appealed the sentence and won.

    Maxima Acuña with her husband.

    Guarango/Daughter of the Lake

    The Newmont mining company’s permits for Congas have expired and the company recently published a statement saying ‘under the current social and political environment, the Company does not anticipate being able to develop [the] Conga [mine] for the foreseeable future.’

    But with a $4.8-billion goldmine at stake, neither the government nor company is likely to give up easily, and Maxima continues to face threats and harassment.

    Luckily, she is not alone. Across Peru the quiet peasant farmer has become a symbol of resistance. Her image is painted on murals and printed on posters and banners held aloft during protest marches. The northern state of Cajamarca where she lives also stands behind her struggle. In 2012 the state governor declared a general strike against the project and the national government responded by placing the region under a state of emergency. On the first day of the ‘emergency’, police killed five protesters and brutally assaulted a Catholic priest, Father Marco Arana, who was sitting peacefully on a park bench at the time of the attack.

    Left divided

    Two years later voters re-elected the same state governor, Gregorio Santos, despite charges of corruption. Santos’ defenders say he is the victim of a political witch hunt and even those who believe he is guilty admit he has not been treated fairly. The governor has been in jail for nearly two years without trial – prosecutors say they are still conducting their investigation and refuse to release Santos, even denying his petition for house arrest.

    Nearly a third of the population rejected all the candidates and inadvertently gave the rightwing a boost

    This year ‘Goyo’, as Santos is called by affectionate fans, made headlines by running for president from his cell. On 9 April he won the state of Cajamarca and took nearly four per cent of the national vote – enough to have put Veronika Mendoza, the candidate for a coalition of leftwing parties, in second spot. Mendoza finished a close third to rightwing candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a staunch defender of neoliberalism. Social networks were rife with angry criticism of Santos in the wake of the results, accusing him of stealing the coalition’s votes and dividing the Left. The governor published a tweet in his defence, saying it was ‘their own fault’ the coalition lost, ‘because they didn’t have enough strength to reach the population. It’s not our fault.’

    Political analyst Mirko Lauer pointed out another invisible factor in the election results: nearly 32 per cent of eligible voters spoiled their ballots or didn’t vote. This is a large number in a country where voting is mandatory and non-voters must pay a hefty fine. Nearly a third of the population rejected all the candidates and inadvertently gave the rightwing a boost.

    There were also accusations of fraud against Peru’s electoral body. Two high-ranking candidates on the Right were barred from running just a few weeks before the vote for campaign infractions, helping consolidate the rightwing vote.

    Old cronies

    Whatever forces are to blame for the Left’s defeat, Peruvians must now choose between Kuczynski and Keiko Fujimori in a run-off election this June.

    Yes, for those who recognize the name, Keiko is the daughter of disgraced former president Alberto Fujimori. Papa Fujimori is currently serving 25 years in prison for human rights abuses, including directing a death squad, and corruption. During those dark years Keiko served as her father’s First Lady and continues to defend her father. Keiko’s party is teeming with Dad’s old cronies; like zombies from a third-rate horror movie, Peru’s corrupt politicians never die. Both Kuczynski and Keiko are likely to back the Congas project and Keiko’s party has already won a majority of seats in the Congress.

    Like zombies from a third-rate horror movie, Peru’s corrupt politicians never die

    Despite the grim results, Peru’s newly formed leftwing coalition – called Frente Amplio (Broad Front) – won 20 seats and will form the official opposition for the first time in over two decades. Victorious Congress members include Marisa Glave, an ardent feminist and gay rights activist, and Indira Huilca, daughter of union leader Pedro Huilca, who was assassinated during Alberto Fujimori’s regime. The government blamed Huilca’s murder on Maoist guerrillas, but there is considerable evidence that an elite death squad managed by Fujimori was responsible for his murder.

    Indira, who witnessed her father’s murder when she was a child, is firmly convinced of Alberto Fujimori’s guilt. Not surprisingly, she has vowed never to vote for Keiko. But she also criticizes Kuczynski for refusing to negotiate with the Left. ‘I think his team is very comfortable with Fujimori’s party,’ she said in a radio interview, calling on him to ‘take a stand on labour issues and for human rights.’

    When the new Congress is sworn in at the end of July, Indira will face off against Fujimori’s son Kenji, who won a seat with his sister’s party. Kenji gained notoriety during the scandal that toppled his father’s government. Secret videos were broadcast on national television showing business and political elites receiving bribes from the Fujimori government. But Kenji’s videos were of a different nature: shocked viewers watched him have sexual relations with his dog Puñete (Fist) and play with a military helicopter as though it were his personal toy.

    The fact that Kenji and Indira were both elected shows the depths of the polarization of Peruvian society.

    Opposition rising

    Maria Elena Foronda, another Goldman prize winner and devoted environmentalist, also won a Congress seat for the alliance. I interviewed Maria Elena for a New Internationalist article in 1999 about her struggle to clean up the fishmeal industry in her community and was awed by her dedication and bravery. At the end of a three-day visit to the city that literally rained fishmeal, my lungs begged for mercy and throat burned with an acrid, fishy taste. To this day I am still humbled by Maria Elena’s determination to remain in such difficult surroundings, braving threats and persecution on top of the pervasive contamination.

    Peru is full of Maria Elena Forondas and Maxima Acuñas. Whoever wins the presidency in June will have to deal with a growing sector of civil society that is fed up with the current economic model. Throughout Peru, communities are rising in opposition to the sale of their natural resources to foreign companies without environmental controls or fair distribution of the profits.

    Although Peru’s general poverty levels have been halved in the past 15 years, the gap between cities and the countryside – where most of the resources are located – is growing. Rural poverty is at 46 per cent and in Maxima’s state of Cajamarca, home to South America’s largest goldmine, poverty stands at 50.7 per cent.

    The right will also have to contend with a new political force: the ‘No Keiko’ movement. More than 50,000 people took to the streets of Lima, the nation’s capital, to rally against Keiko a few days before voting this April. Parallel marches and rallies were held in cities throughout the country and also in Europe and other Latin American countries.

    Whoever wins the presidency in June will have to deal with a growing sector of civil society that is fed up with the current economic model

    Crying ‘Fujimori, Never Again’, protesters dressed up as Fuji-Rats or carried posters remembering the ex-president’s many abuses. A group of young women carried signs declaring they were daughters of the peasant farmers Fujimori couldn’t sterilize. His government has been accused of forcibly sterilizing thousands of indigenous and low-income women (read a report on this in the forthcoming June 2016 issue of New Internationalist).

    Many of the protesters, like these young daughters, were too young to remember the years of Papa Fujimori. I wondered what drew so many youth to the march and asked a group of students from Lima’s elite Catholic University.

    ‘A lot of [Fujimori’s] crimes still have not been resolved,’ said a young woman majoring in sociology. ‘For us, these crimes are not in the past; they’re in the present. They’re our reality.’

    ‘There are some very illuminating videos about [Alberto] Fujimori on YouTube,’ said another young man, while his companions shook their heads in agreement and said Facebook and Twitter helped get young people out to the marches.

    But perhaps the best answer came from a student who carried a sign saying, ‘We’re young, but we’re not stupid.’

    They may have lost at the polls, but these students, farmers, indigenous leaders, activists and disgruntled ordinary citizens will all be watching Peru’s new government. With heroines like Maxima Acuña and Congress members like Indira Huilca and Maria Elena Foronda, they will not be silenced.

    Update, 28 April 2016
    Another venerable force will join the leftwing alliance party in Peru’s next Congress. Marco Arana, the man the mining industry calls ‘The Devil’ and a Time Magazine Environmental Hero, has won a seat representing his home state of Cajamarca. Peru’s official voting agency published the final count in the tight race on 26 April, more than two weeks after the final vote count. Father Marco was suspended from his duties as a priest by Peru’s conservative Catholic Church seven years ago when he helped co-found ‘Tierra y Libertad’ (Earth and Liberty), the country’s first green party. His tireless defence of farming communities is chronicled in the film The Devil Operation, which exposes a spy-ring linked to South America’s largest goldmine.

    The film ‘Daughter of the Lake’ features Maxima and her struggle.. Watch the trailer here.

    Twisted Roots: Surviving 20 years of doc-making in Peru


    Farmers from Tambogrande protesting in Peru, brandishing mangos and limes in Tambogrande: Mangos, Murder, Mining (directed by Stephanie Boyd and Ernesto Cabellos, 2007). © Guarango Cine y Video

    Stephanie Boyd is a Canadian filmmaker, writer and sometimes trouble-maker who lives in deepest, darkest Peru. She has spent much of the past 12 years making a trilogy about Peruvian farmers who stand up to foreign mining companies. Boyd does not get invited to many embassy parties.

    Twenty years ago, Peru was a no-man’s-land for homespun documentaries, a country reeling from an internal civil war, economic meltdown and a dictatorship that resembled a cross between a drug cartel, the agents in The Matrix and Mr. Bean.

    The president was clumsy and liked to dress up in funny outfits with silly hats, but he also had a penchant for corruption and secret death squads and turned the country’s media into his own personal PR team.

    In this climate of fear and censorship, a handful of 20-somethings decided to form an association of independent filmmakers. They had no formal education, little training and no equipment or funds; people said they were either crazy or brave (they were both).

    The troupe was encouraged by Stefan Kaspar, a Swiss filmmaker who had been living in Peru since the late 1970s and was even crazier and braver than his protegés. Stefan gave the young dreamers a room in his house, lent them equipment and provided advice and training. He had a good deal of knowledge to impart; Stefan was one of the founding members of Grupo Chaski, a Peruvian film collective formed in the early 1980s that had developed its own revolutionary style.

    Chaski’s subject matter and treatment were radical for the time. Their first film, Ms Universe in Peru (1982), juxtaposes glitzy scenes of international beauty contestants with the harsh reality facing poor urban women and peasant farmers.

    It is the stuff of dark comedy: a line of buxom white ‘Misses,’ smiles aglow in bathing suits outside Lima’s sombre colonial government palace, contrasted with potato farmers from the mountains carrying toddlers wrapped in bright shawls on their backs.

    But Chaski didn’t portray their Peruvian farmers as victims; the faces on the screen are determined, questioning, often angry, and their impassioned declarations show they are more than aware of the pageant’s hypocrisy.

    Other Chaski films include Gregorio (1984) and Juliana (1989), two features about street kids that blend documentary and fiction, using children from poor neighbourhoods as actors. Both movies did well on the international scene – Juliana won the UNICEF award at the Berlinale – but their success at home was the real surprise. For the first time, Peruvians stood in line en masse to watch films about their own reality, with more than a million theatregoers for Gregorio, and 7.5 million viewers on national television.

    ‘Film doesn’t change reality,’ said Stefan, ‘but it has the potential to include the excluded, to visualize the invisible, to remember the forgotten, to give images and words to those who do not have them.’

    Sadly, Chaski broke up in 1991 and remained dormant for over a decade. But in those dark times before YouTube and pirated DVDs, Chaski’s archives served as an inspiration and training for the young Guarangos.

    There was also an organic link between the groups. Marino Leon, the kid who played Gregorio in the movie, left the streets to grow up under Stefan’s roof and became one of the founding members of the new association.

    It was Marino who gave the group its name, ‘Guarango,’ a native tree from Peru’s coastal desert that survives on scarce resources by digging its roots deep into the soil and remaining small but tough.

    Negotiating a ceasefire in The Devil Operation (dir. Stephanie Boyd, 2010).


    It would take some time, however, for the group to develop those deep roots.

    Their greatest obstacle was a lack of funds. ‘Funding trouble’ in Peru has a much more pervasive meaning than it does for most Canadian filmmakers. It means borrowing bus fare from your sister to make it to the office, not having a cent to your name and no access to credit empty pockets, flat broke, bumming cigarettes.

    Everyone wanted to direct, but no one wanted the inglorious task of finding the money – no one except Ernesto (Tito) Cabellos, a painfully shy young man who didn’t consider himself an artist but stepped forward to be the group’s producer.

    Stefan taught Tito how to write a budget and he began getting small projects: music videos for Peruvian bands, video workshops with kids and short promos for companies and non-profits.

    Budgets were tight, profits were nil and the work wasn’t going to land them a slot at Cannes in the near future. One by one, the gang dropped out until only Tito was left.

    When crisis hits in Latin America, your family steps in to help. Tito and his brother Rafo drove their father’s old Volkswagen Beetle around the chaotic streets of Lima as a cab to raise money for basic equipment, and their younger brother, Ricardo, taught himself how to edit and build computers out of second-hand parts.

    With Chaski dormant, Stefan was in serious economic trouble, and Guarango moved from his house by the sea into an apartment in an ocean of concrete blocks designed by a somber East German architect. The Cabellos brothers were behind in rent, the phone was often cut off, and if Mom hadn’t stepped in to make lunch every day, they would have been hungry as well.

    Around this time, one day in 1997, a bright-eyed young Canadian girl named Stephanie showed up to do an English voice-over for a Guarango video. She had just arrived in Peru to work at a human-rights publication.

    This hidden story, of overcoming pride and jealousy and putting the cause of justice before our own egos, is as real and vital to Guarango’s story as the official timeline

    Every day, she sat at her desk in a posh colonial house and edited articles about thrilling, often dangerous happenings that seemed very far away: the Zapatistas in Mexico, the peace movement in Colombia, the mothers and grandmothers of disappeared children in Argentina. Her job was safe, the pay was reasonable with health benefits and good contacts; she was invited to a lot of embassy parties with Very Important People.

    After she finished her voice-over, Tito told her about his dream to make independent documentaries about what was really happening in Peru, outside the upper-class neighbourhoods of Lima; or, in the words of Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman, to add a page to the country’s photo album.

    She looked at Tito’s bare office with its faded paint, the patched-up computer and dented microphone and thought his cause was hopeless and perhaps even insane.

    So she did what any idealistic young woman would do in her place. She (that would be ‘I’) fell in love with the dream and the dreamer and joined the crew.

    We decided to make a series about Peruvians standing up to foreign mining companies. It seemed a perfect combination: a Canadian, angry and embarrassed at the way her countrymen were exploiting Peru’s natural resources, and a Peruvian who wanted development, but how and at what cost?

    No one was talking about mining issues back then. Human rights groups said it was an ‘environmental issue’ and wouldn’t get involved, perhaps forgetting that humans need a clean, safe environment to survive, and the media ignored anything critical of business interests. But on the ground, the situation was about to boil over – people were fed up and angry; they wanted to tell their story.

    We wrote up a modest proposal. The series would take 18 months, six months per film. The year was 1999. We had no funds, no equipment, no experience directing or making independent films and no idea what we were getting into.

    Eleven years later, we finished the third film in the series… Okay, it took a bit longer than planned, but the three films have been seen around the world in over 150 film festivals, on television in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East and have won more than 30 awards and recognitions.

    I hope it’s a case of the tortoise winning the race in the end, or at least having a hell of a ride along the way.

    Influenced by Chaski’s experience in the 1980s, we carted the films around Peru with a digital projector, a large swath of heavy fabric for a screen and speakers. Sometimes we had to hunt down fuel to get the local generator up and running in places without electricity.

    Shortly after our first film came out, Stefan resuscitated Chaski and launched a Micro Cine project that helped expand our reach. Our ally screened the films in more than 50 community-run theatres in rural areas and poor urban neighbourhoods in Peru, and eventually in Bolivia and Ecuador as well.

    Another group, called ‘Nomads,’ incorporated our mining series into their roaming film project, travelling around the country with a portable theatre.

    Child workers who became actors in Juliana (dirs. Fernando Espinoza and Alejandro Legaspi, 1989).

    Susana Pastor

    Peru is a haven for cheap, pirated DVDs, so we made more than 3,000 copies of our films and gave them to educators, activists and anyone willing to get a bunch of people together to watch.

    We also gave master copies and posters to our favourite black market stalls in Lima so they’d list us beside Hollywood blockbusters and other titles. Don’t get me wrong, I’m against piracy in countries where people can pay for original DVDs. But when we started, poverty was running at 50 per cent in Peru, and this sizeable group happened to be one of our target audiences. So we made the controversial decision to make piracy part of our distribution plan.

    We were overwhelmed by requests from people in other mining communities who wanted us to film their struggles. Faced with the annoying human shortcoming of only being able to be in one place at a time, we looked around for more partners. Our sound designer and editorial consultant, Jose Balado, was forming a new group called DocuPeru.

    If we were idealistic and crazy, they were off the map. Jose, a charismatic film professor from Puerto Rico, and his small army of Peruvian film school graduates were travelling to isolated parts of the country, giving free production workshops to ordinary people who had never used film.

    They called this wild circus the ‘Documentary Caravan.’ Workshop groups produced their own short docs, which were screened in their communities and at a yearly festival in Lima.

    Jose’s goal was to make film accessible to all Peruvians. This was DocuPeru’s activism, and it was admirable. But what if they took their Caravan to communities standing up to powerful foreign mining corporations and became eco-film warriors?

    Luckily, Jose was bold and political enough to take the risk. We sent DocuPeru off to work with farmers and activists who were standing up to South America’s largest gold mine, owned by a U.S. company.

    After the training, some of the participants realized they were the victims of a spy operation: strangers were photographing and filming their every move. They devised a counter-espionage operation, turning the cameras on their aggressors. You film me; I film you filming me.

    It may sound comic, but the soundtrack was chilling. The activists and their families received threatening phone calls – a female lawyer was told she would be raped and killed, her body cut into pieces and eaten by dogs.

    When one of their allies was assassinated, the activists’ leader, a Peruvian priest, upped the stakes and caught one of the spies, along with a copy of his computer hard drive containing hundreds of reports, photos and video footage of the activists.

    Never wait to film an environmental defender in Peru; you can’t count on them being around tomorrow

    The spies had given the activists nicknames that read like a bad parody of a Hollywood thriller: ‘Four-Eyes,’ ‘Roadrunner,’ ‘Yoda’ and ‘Goose.’ Their main target, the priest, was simply ‘The Devil.’

    I was giving a filmmaking workshop with the activists when Father Marco captured the spy and remember working alone in his office late at night, jumping every time the phone rang or someone knocked at the door.

    The filmmaker had become a subject, and the protagonists had become filmmakers; we used the activists’ footage to make The Devil Operation, the final movie in our mining series, which opened at Hot Docs in 2010.

    Now, Tito is about to release the fourth film in the ever-expanding trilogy, about women farmers struggling to protect their sacred lakes from mining. With such a lengthy series, new faces have had to step in to fill big gaps. Tito’s long-time mentor Stefan Kaspar passed away suddenly last October while filming in Colombia. A month later, another key supporter and advisor left this world: Canadian doc giant Peter Wintonick.

    When you’re thrown up against the fragility of life twice in one month, and two great influences are suddenly and painfully gone, you grieve, you mourn, you pay homage. And once the pain starts to lessen, you realize that maybe it’s time to celebrate making it to 20 years and get everyone left together while you still can.

    So, this past May, Guarango held six nights of free screenings, panel discussions and workshops in Lima, opening with an evening devoted to Stefan and Grupo Chaski’s films.

    The panel discussions leaned toward storytelling. Tito remembered how a volunteer from Stefan’s Micro Cines project in the southern Andes complained about the length of our second film.

    ‘It’s a good movie but the screenings take more than three hours,’ he said.

    ‘Three hours?’ said Tito. ‘But the film is only 86 minutes long.’

    ‘Yes, but every 10 minutes I have to press “pause” and explain what happened in Quechua,’ said the volunteer.

    The cast and crew of Gregorio (Gruop Chaski, 1982).

    Susana Pastor

    Tito thanked the translator for his patience, and from then on we included ‘Quechua dubbing’ into our budgets.

    This turned into an unexpected adventure of its own. Despite the fact that Quechua is spoken by millions of Peruvians, especially in the southern mountains, there are no professional dubbing operations and for our last film we had to train radio actors from a nonprofit to do the translation and voiceovers.

    One incredible young woman pulled off every secondary female character, from a frightened activist to an angry lawyer and an elderly grandmother in mourning, with tears streaming down her face in the sound booth.

    Not all our memories were so positive. Godofredo Garcia, a mango farmer who led the opposition against a Canadian mining company in his lush valley, was assassinated before we’d filmed a good interview with him. This was a grim lesson. Never wait to film an environmental defender in Peru; you can’t count on them being around tomorrow.

    There were also parts of our history that were edited out, deemed unsightly for the public. We didn’t mention that our own devils nearly derailed the last film in our mining series.

    Tito and I separated while finishing the second film, but our breakup was so amicable, attending festivals and press events together, we thought we could still co-direct. Tensions erupted once production got under way on the new film. Without getting into the mean and nasty, we both said and did things we’d rather forget. It seemed we were human, after all.

    The project was at risk of spontaneously combusting when Peter Wintonick convinced us that the film – and the serious human rights abuses it exposed – was more important than our squabbles. Tito decided to concentrate on Cooking Up Dreams, a solo project, which was nearing completion, and I directed The Devil Operation alone, with Tito as executive producer and consulting editor.

    Both films went on to win international awards and play at top festivals, and we healed our friendship by proving we could direct on our own and move on with our lives.

    This hidden story, of overcoming pride and jealousy and putting the cause of justice before our own egos, is as real and vital to Guarango’s story as the official timeline painted on the wall outside the anniversary screenings.

    The activists and their families received threatening phone calls – a female lawyer was told she would be raped and killed, her body cut into pieces and eaten by dogs

    But perhaps it’s too complicated to explain in point-form bullets or during a panel discussion in front of an audience of strangers. So it became like one of those key events the cinematographer failed to capture on film: You know it’s important, but you just don’t have the material to include it in the final cut.

    At the closing party, in the elegant cultural centre run by the Spanish government, the wine ran out too soon and the food even sooner, so we ended up at an old canteen in Lima’s run-down centre.

    Queirolo is stark and dusty, lit by bare fluorescent bulbs and crammed with small wooden tables and hard chairs. Cracked tiles cover the floor and bottles of cheap pisco, rum, beer and wine line the brown shelves running up the walls to the ceiling.

    The décor hasn’t changed in at least 50 years; neither have the waiters, crinkled and wizened, still rushing through the drunken crowd with trays of ham and cheese sandwiches, pig’s feet and fried bull testicles and other coastal delicacies. The place smells of booze and sweat, pickled olives and cheese. Tender Criollo ballads play beneath the crowd’s heated talk and laughter.

    This is where I first met Peruvians resisting corruption and abuse of power.

    Seventeen years ago, students, activists and even regular citizens began to rise up against Alberto Fujimori, the homicidal Mr. Bean president mentioned at the beginning of this article.

    Street protests were met with violent repression. Clouds of tear gas, police batons and heavy riot shields would scatter the crowd, but the keeners would meet up afterward at Queirolo, red-eyed and dizzy from the fumes, brandishing torn posters and placards, comparing scrapes and wounds and planning the next campaign.

    We drank beer from the same glass, passing it around the table in a kind of solidarity of saliva, and the windowless place filled up with smoke (you could still poison yourself and others in public back then).

    Later, when the place closed for the night, we’d move to an empty room across the road; instruments would come out and there was singing and dancing.

    Now, looking around the crowded tavern, the place is so unchanged I can almost see the ghosts of those idealistic youth. It could be 1982, with a young Stefan Kaspar and the rest of Grupo Chaski in a corner, debating how to sneak their cameras into the Miss Universe contest.

    Or 1994, with Tito, Marino and the other young Guarangos, dreaming about the films they want to make. Even my younger self is here, with Tito and his brother Rafo, plotting how to get our first film past the Peruvian censors.

    But tonight is 2014, and I’m here with Tito, his wife Susana and the small production team for his new film. There’s also Malu, Tito’s sister and filmmaker, and Fabricio, the editor of my last film and co-founder of Quisca, our film collective in the mountains.

    After 20 years of struggling, learning, screwing up, laughing, fighting, winning, losing and waking up in the middle of the night with the cold sweat of fear, we’re still here, ordering tamales and bottles of warm beer, remembering the past and stumbling along with new projects.

    That twisted little tree from Peru’s desert coast doesn’t grow very big, but it’s a survivor.

    And that in itself seems worth celebrating.

    For more information, or to purchase DVDs from Guarango’s Seated on a Bench of Gold series, go here.

    This article first appeared in Point of View magazine.

    Stephanie Boyd is a Canadian filmmaker, writer and sometimes trouble-maker who lives in deepest, darkest Peru. She has spent much of the past 12 years making a trilogy about Peruvian farmers who stand up to foreign mining companies. Boyd does not get invited to many embassy parties.

    Climate change greenwashing


    Jorge Rios, surrounded by his family. Rios was one of the environmental activists killed in September 2014. © Global Witness

    On Monday, 1 December, the Conference of the Parties (COP 20), the United Nations climate change talks, opened in Lima, Peru, to accusations of hypocrisy and deception from the country’s indigenous leaders and activists.

    Peru has lavished $54 million on hosting the event, which sees leaders from 195 countries and over 10,000 delegates converge in Lima, the nation’s smog-ridden capital.

    However, behind the government’s carefully laid green carpet, President Ollanta Humala and his aides pursue destructive policies, which include back peddling on environmental legislation, failing to protect indigenous communities’ rights over their land and water resources and violent police repression of opposition.

    Alfonso Lopez, a Kokama leader from Peru’s Amazon, told the country’s most-watched news station, Canal N, that COP 20 was ‘a farce’.

    Lopez says the government-owned PetroPeru has spilled oil for over a decade in his community’s rivers, and that none of their water sources are apt for human consumption.

    ‘The conference is an attempt to cover up the disgrace in which indigenous communities are living in Peru’s interior.’

    Peru is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for environmentalists, according to a new report by the non-profit Global Witness. At least 57 environmental defenders have been assassinated in this Latin American country since 2002, the majority of deaths related to mining projects.

    Two years ago, three men were killed by police during protests against a Glencore-Xstrata mine in the southern Andes. A few weeks later, five protesters died at the hands of police during a strike against Newmont’s Yanacocha mine in the northern Andes.

    New legislation against social protest in Peru allows the police to fire on peaceful demonstrators with impunity and the survivors to be given 20-year jail sentences for crimes such as blocking a road.

    The Global Witness report highlights the assassination, this September, of Edwin Chota and three other Amazonian leaders by suspected illegal loggers.

    Chota’s native Ashaninka community has been demanding recognition of its ancestral lands for over a decade and the four men were outspoken critics of illegal logging.

    Peru’s illegal lumber industry is big business – a single old-growth mahogany tree can be worth more than $11,000 in the United States.

    The rate of deforestation in Peru doubled between 2011 and 2012, and destruction of the country’s Amazon is responsible for half of Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions.

    Indigenous communities are key defenders of the forest, but Peru has been slow to recognize their land rights. Over 20 million hectares of indigenous land claims await processing by the government, and new legislation weakens the rights of original peoples to their territory.

    The government’s poor environmental record has led to an increase in conflicts, with Peru’s ombudsman’s office registering 135 socio-environmental conflicts in October, most of them related to mining, oil and gas projects.

    Indigenous and farming communities say they face contamination of water resources and loss of farmland from transnational mines and oil and gas pipelines. There’s also widespread deforestation from illegal mining, palm oil and cocoa plantations.

    How NOT to save the planet

    Hardly a showcase for the world’s annual climate summit. Unless perhaps the UN was hoping to show delegates how NOT to save the planet?

    Peru’s activist community decided to confront the government’s greenwashing and has organized a parallel event, the ‘People’s Forum against Climate Change’, which runs from 8 to 11 December.

    Organizers expect thousands of people from five continents at the forum, and a nationwide march of indigenous peoples and farming communities will join them in Lima on 9 December.

    The list of indigenous speakers include Mina Setra of the Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance in Indonesia, Joseph Itongwa from the Congo, Candido Mezua, a Cacique chief from Panama and Ruth Buendia of the Ashanika in Peru and winner of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize.

    It is time the world’s leaders were called to task on climate change. Lima’s summit marks the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other destructive activities.

    However, according to the Climate Action Network, ‘no single country is yet on track to prevent dangerous climate change.’ The non-profit research organization produces a yearly ranking of countries, based on their policies for climate protection.

    ‘The conference is an attempt to cover up the disgrace in which indigenous communities are living in Peru’s interior’ - Alfonso Lopez

    Out of 61 spots, Canada and Australia ranked 58 and 57 respectively, beating only the oil-barons of Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Iran for the world’s worst record on climate change. The US ranked at 43 and Britain at 5.

    After 20 years of climate summits, there have been a lot of pledges and speeches, but the world’s leaders have failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impact is already being felt.

    A new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal… the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.’

    This may not seem like news to those of us who have being paying attention, but the report was issued by a UN scientific body – meaning that even the world’s conservative governments can no longer deny the devastating impacts of climate change.

    Despite this evidence, the world’s nations have failed to sanction the real culprits of climate change: the big polluters, like the oil, mining and gas industries, car manufacturers and agro-industry.

    Even worse, last year’s summit, held in Warsaw, included corporate sponsorship by companies such as General Motors, BMW and a Polish petroleum corporation.

    Industry needs to start taking responsibility for its collateral damage – otherwise, it’s like having a tribunal on war crimes sponsored and paid for by the perpetrators.

    Delegates at COP20 can nod and smile for the cameras, but glossy photos and empty promises are not enough to save our dying planet. It’s time for real action.

    Stephanie Boyd is a writer and documentary film maker who has been based in Peru for the past 17 years. She is working on a book about her experiences on the front-lines of the world’s mining wars. Her latest film, The Devil Operation, can be previewed here.

    ACTION: You can sign a petition on deforestation, which Rainforest Rescue will present to Peru’s government at the COP 20.

    The myth of ethical gold


    Sleep soft: a memorial for baby Andini, who died after suffering an extensive skin rash, in Buyat Bay, Indonesia. Locals accuse the Newmont gold&mining corporation of contaminating the bay with heavy metals. Many children have been born with birth defects here. © Earthworks

    Modern goldmining has developed a Midas touch, turning low-grade deposits into vast wealth but with devastating consequences: over 900 farmers poisoned by a mercury spill in the mountains of Peru; Akyim indigenous people from Ghana forced from their forest homeland; an Indonesian bay and fishing community contaminated by arsenic and mercury; the Western Shoshone nation in Nevada deprived of their treaty rights and ancestral land.

    These are just some of the accusations levelled at one of the new kings of the global gold empire, the Newmont Mining Corporation.

    And still, Newmont markets itself as an ethical gold producer. The company has ISO (International Organization for Standardization) certification for environmental management and has slithered onto the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for seven consecutive years.

    Newmont also belongs to several organizations and conventions with impressive names like the United Nations Global Compact, the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, and the Partnering Against Corruption Initiative.

    Sounds reassuring until you read the small print: membership in these groups is voluntary and reporting is usually done by the companies or auditors in their pay. Even when third-party auditors exist, companies accused of human rights violations, like Newmont, continue to sneak onto the roster.

    It’s not fair just to pick on Newmont, though. All the major gold companies have been accused of human rights abuses and contamination and they’ve jumped with glee into the cleansing suds of the new image-washing machine: that oxymoron called ‘corporate responsibility’.

    Damaging footprint

    Robert Moran, a scientist who has worked for over four decades on water issues in the mining industry, says that most goldmines operate like ‘private fiefdoms’. Government officials need permission before visiting sites, and technical data and information is supplied by the companies, including the types of chemicals used and make-up of waste materials. During his long career, Moran says, ‘I’ve never seen a long-term sustainable mine when it comes to water resource issues.’

    But the public has gotten wise, and rising opposition to new mines around the world has sent shivers through the industry. Even Wall Street junkies are worried: stock prices are affected by social unrest.

    Two years ago, Newmont’s Minas Conga project, which would have destroyed several lakes in the Peruvian mountains, was put on hold due to local opposition. Today Newmont is still trying to convince nervous investors that the mine is going ahead, despite hundreds of farmers camped out by the lakes, determined to keep the company’s machinery out.

    The conflict has made front-page news in the business world, yet ethical investment firms, including the US-based Christian Brothers, continue to offer Newmont stock in their portfolios.

    So-called ethical investors defend their cosy relationship with the gold industry saying they ‘challenge’ the companies, writing harshly worded letters and filing shareholder resolutions. But how effective can they be if they consistently fail to change the way companies operate on the ground? Do they merely provide corporations with green stars they don’t deserve?

    The contradictions leave many socially conscious investors wondering if there’s such a thing as ‘ethical gold’, or if it’s just another corporate fairy-tale.

    Certified clean?

    A decade ago, a coalition of non-profits led by Earthworks and Oxfam decided to tackle this problem and launched a campaign called No Dirty Gold. Over 100 jewellery stores, including 8 of the top 10 US retailers, signed the ‘Golden Rules’ pledge, promising not to buy gold from companies associated with human rights and environmental abuses.

    This prompted the rather sticky question – how do jewellers ensure they’re buying ‘clean’ gold?

    Always eager to please, the jewellery industry set up a certification organization called the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) which would direct consumers and jewellery companies to clean, green gold. The RJC has more than 450 member companies from goldmines to refineries to jewellery stores.

    But, in a report called More Shine than Substance, environmental and labour groups claim the RJC uses weak standards, especially regarding the environment and workers’ rights, and lacks transparency. A quick glance at the RJC’s membership reads like a ‘Who’s who’ of companies accused of human rights violations.

    There’s goldmining giant Rio Tinto, whose reputation is so tarnished that environmental and human rights groups protested its contract to provide the 2012 Olympic medals. Another member is gold refinery Argor-Heraeus SA, under investigation in Switzerland for buying gold from an illegal armed group in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Profits from the sale of ‘conflict gold’ in the Congo help fuel a bloody civil war responsible for almost six million deaths since the 1990s.

    Two other RJC members, MKS Finance and its subsidiary PAMP, both reputable Swiss gold processing firms, have been accused of buying illegal gold from Peru’s Amazon. More than 40,000 hectares of Peru’s Amazon has been devastated by illegal goldmining and the industry has been accused of human rights abuses ranging from poisoning workers with mercury to forced labour and sex trafficking of young girls.

    Survival mining

    Large certification schemes like the RJC often have difficulty tracking gold from the mine to the consumer. Smaller certification labels have had more success: like Fairtrade gold, from the Fairtrade coffee people, and Fairmined gold, by the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM). Each certifier works directly with communities in Latin America and Africa that produce artisanal gold, ensuring traceability.

    According to Fairtrade International, about 100 million people worldwide earn a living from artisanal and small-scale mining. Although artisanal miners produce only about 10 per cent of the world’s gold each year, they make up about 90 per cent of the workforce in goldmining, providing important financial support for their families.

    ‘The miners are fighting against poverty,’ says Manuel Reinoso, vice-president of ARM. ‘It’s not like big mining that exploits workers and takes 90 per cent of the profits out of the country and leaves nothing behind.’

    Reinoso knows the hardships facing artisanal miners first-hand; the elderly Peruvian has earned his muscular arms and trim frame from a lifetime of labour in the mines.

    Gold mines operate like 'private fiefdoms'. Government officials need permission before visiting sites.

    He admits there are still environmental issues with certification – not all ARM and Fairtrade gold is free from mercury and cyanide. Reinoso says they’re working towards phasing out chemicals, but it’s going to take time and money.

    ARM has pilot projects in Africa using chemical-free gravimetric methods for gold recovery. And Fairtrade has created the ‘Ecological Gold’ label for gold that has been produced without chemicals. But even without mercury or cyanide, mining leaves a major ecological footprint, especially in sensitive areas like rainforests and watersheds.

    This means that programmes like Fairtrade and Fairmined have to remain small; if they try to scale up, they’ll no longer be sustainable.

    Many environmentalists, like Eduardo Gudynas, argue that no goldmining can be considered ‘sustainable’. Gudynas has called for a moratorium on goldmining in Latin America.

    Only nine per cent of our gold consumption goes into electronics and medical equipment; the rest is used in jewellery and the financial sector. According to the World Gold Council, recycling already accounts for a third of the total supply of gold and is on the rise, meaning our technology and medical needs could be met without any new goldmining.

    This would require an overhaul of our economic system, challenging the jealous gods of over-consumption, and finding new jobs for the artisanal miners.

    Not too long ago respectable people bought ivory and flaunted sealskin coats. Could gold stocks and wedding rings become the next taboo item, symbols of war, greed and environmental destruction?

    One thing is certain: if we keep supporting ‘dirty gold’, we could end up like subjects of a modern King Midas: destroying our natural resources for gold and realizing all too late that there’s nothing left to eat or drink.

    Stephanie Boyd is a writer and filmmaker based in Peru and a regular contributor to New Internationalist. She is writing a book on the impact of goldmining on the environment and local communities called The Price of Gold.

    Who’s the ugliest of them all? Glencore Xstrata is a hot contender for worst corporation award

    A police officer takes aim at an indigenous woman protesting GX's Tintaya mine in Espinar, Peru, May 2012.

    Miguel Gutierrez

    ‘It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.’ – Henry David Thoreau, 1866.

    Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. But in these wired times we can express our disfavour by voting for the world’s top corporate bad guy. Eight companies have been shortlisted for the annual Public Eye awards, given to the worst violators of human rights and the environment.

    The awards, which are sponsored by Greenpeace and the Berne Declaration, will be given out at the World Economic Forum at Davos in January to the (un)lucky winners. There’s also a jury award, selected by distinguished experts in business ethics, the environment and human rights, including Vandana Shiva. Competition is tight. Nominees include such infamous corporations as Gap, Syngenta/Bayer/BASF, FIFA and Glencore Xstrata.

    The selection is so good, or rather, so terribly bad, I found it hard to pick just one. In the end, personal experience won out. I live not far from a mine owned by Glencore Xstrata (GX) in the mountains of Peru and have witnessed the long-running conflict.

    In the Philippines, the company’s proposed Tampakan mine will displace 5,000 members of the indigenous B’laan tribe

    Last May, three people were killed and about 100 wounded when police violently repressed protests at GX’s Tintaya mine. Oddly enough, protesters weren’t trying to close the mine, they simply wanted improved environmental monitoring and funds for community development.

    Many of the demonstrators are pro-mining and earn a living providing services for the company. Like Carlos (not his real name) a young mechanic who was attacked by police as he and some friends were leaving the peaceful demonstration.

    ‘The officers started beating us with their fists and kicking us with their boots, forcing us to the ground,’ he said. ‘One officer held a gun to my friend’s head and then fired into the ground.’

    Carlos was taken to the mine’s compound where, along with 22 other men and women, he was held for over 24 hours, enduring beatings and torture.

    This incident is just one in a slew of accusations against GX operations around the world. Human rights activists have united and formed the Shadow Network: Glencore Xstrata Watchdogs to monitor the company and push for changes. Earlier this year I met with some of the network’s members from Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, the Philippines, Peru and Switzerland.

    Contamination from a mine owned by GX in Bolivia

    Shadow Network: Glencore Xstrata Watchdogs

    Their stories are frighteningly similar: lack of environmental monitoring and controls, harassment and threats against leaders, police violence against peaceful demonstrations and an unwillingness to negotiate with legitimate community leaders.

    In Argentina GX faces three lawsuits, two for contaminating the environment and another for smuggling minerals without paying taxes. Colombian activists say the company faces nine disciplinary proceedings and more than 600 families have been forced off their land because of pollution from GX’s operations.

    The company also owns nearly a quarter of Lonmin, a platinum mine where 34 striking miners were shot dead last August in one of South Africa’s bloodiest police operations since apartheid.

    But it is Father Joy, a soft-spoken priest from the Philippines, who relates one of the most heart-wrenching tales. He says the company’s proposed Tampakan mine will displace 5,000 members of the indigenous B’laan tribe from their ancestral lands, and that the community has not been adequately consulted about the project.

    His usually smiling face grows sombre as he tells me about a B’laan woman and her two children who were killed by the military last year. The murdered woman was the wife of a B’laan leader who opposes the Tampakan project; neighbours said the woman and her children were sleeping peacefully in their beds when they were killed. A few months later, the B’laan leader’s younger brother was also killed by the military. During a Congressional hearing about the murders, members of the Philippine military said that GX’s subsidiary funds paramilitary groups in the zone.

    Joy and other network members say the recent merger of Glencore Xstrata has created a new global threat: a monolithic corporation that controls a large portion of the world’s metals market and commodities. The newly married company has 90 offices in over 50 countries with its hand in everything from copper and zinc to offshore oil production assets, farms and agricultural facilities.

    A GX mine under construction in Colombia.

    Shadow Network: Glencore Xstrata Watchdogs

    When I asked GX to respond to the Public Eye nomination, a polite man from media relations sent me a 5-page document calling the allegations ‘unfounded and, at times, libellous.’

    I’ll sum up the document in one word: denial.

    Flat out, we didn’t do it.

    The document says GX follows the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and has signed the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

    ‘Voluntary’ is the key word: there’s no enforcement mechanism to ensure compliance with the code and companies ‘self-regulate’ – meaning they decide what to report.

    National police are paid to do the bidding of a private company. Dangerous? Ask the 23 people who were detained at the Tintaya mine last year

    This allows GX to boast about signing the code while quietly employing Peruvian police to provide security for their Tintaya mine. Human rights groups sent me a copy of the contract between Xstrata and Peru’s national police force, confirming that the company employs officers to guard the mine and has the ‘support’ of the province’s police commander.

    Yes, the national police are paid to do the bidding of a private company. Dangerous? Ask the 23 people who were detained and tortured at the Tintaya mine by Peruvian police last year. Or the widows and children of the three men who were killed.

    In the face of such damning evidence maybe the fellows in charge at GX need to take a long, deep breath and realize it’s time to make some real, honest changes about the way they do business.

    Judging by the company’s response to the Public Eye nomination, they’re not quite there yet. This should make them an even stronger candidate for one of the top awards.

    But that’s just my opinion. Now it’s your turn to vote, according to your own conscience.

    No matter who you choose, this simple act will send a message to the world’s economic leaders when they gather next year in Davos: we’re watching you, so shake those nasty ghosts out of your closet because sooner or later, the truth will come out. And next time, it might be you up on the podium, receiving the statue of corporate shame.

    Vote on the Public Eye Award.

    This video has been produced by Shadow Network for the Public Eye award:

    The May 2012 edition of New Internationalist contained a piece on Glencore Xstrata's corruption. Read the mining company and the Peruvian government's violent response to the miners' strike in June 2012.

    Peruvian protesters face increased police brutality

    Anti mining protest
    Anti mining protesters in Lima Geezaweezer, under a CC License

    In an ongoing campaign to remind the public that the police exist to serve foreign corporations, Peru’s interior ministry has announced the creation of special police forces to patrol mining zones.

    While mining executives may sleep more peacefully at night with this news, Peru’s indigenous and farming communities are asking who will protect them from the environmental contamination and human rights abuses generated by the mining projects.

    Since President Ollanta Humala came to power 18 months ago, 15 civilians have died during protests with Peruvian police forces, the majority in conflicts related to oil, mining and gas projects.

    The most recent incident occurred on 23 January, when 400 Quecha-speaking farmers from San Juan de Cañaris in northern Peru were attacked by police. They used tear gas to disperse the peaceful crowd from the installations of Candente Copper, a Canadian company. Community leaders say the proposed mine would destroy their source of water and livelihood. Last year, Cañaris held a referendum in which 95 per cent voted against the mine.

    Peruvian law requires the government to consult farming and indigenous communities before giving out concessions on their land, but human rights groups have criticized loopholes in the law. It is also important to note that it isn’t binding, meaning the government must consult the community, and is then free to go ahead and do what it wants.

    Peru’s military and police forces have been accumulating dangerous new powers to use force against civilians in recent years, including the right to open fire on unarmed protesters. In January 2013, a new law enabled the military to remove bodies without the presence of public prosecutors during a state of emergency.

    It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to recognize the possibilities for abuse, cover-up and impunity under these new draconian laws.

    Country Profile: Peru

    The affluent boardwalk on Lima’s Pacific Ocean is littered with professional dog-walkers huffing to keep up with their charges. Signs warn owners of heavy fines for not picking up the pooches’ solid bodily functions. The lush flower gardens and manicured green parks must be kept clean for the high-income residents.

    Meanwhile, in the city’s dusty shanty towns and the country’s interior, many children work collecting fares on buses or hawking wares in the market to help feed their families. The ambitious go to school in second-hand uniforms, often without breakfast.

    Demo against government clampdown on social protest

    S Boyd, Guarango, GRUFIDES

    Such are the daily contradictions in Latin America’s latest boom economy. Peru led the region with 6.9 per cent economic growth last year but underneath the glowing statistics is a country divided between rich and poor.

    Instead of combating poverty by investing in social programmes, successive governments have concentrated on the art of statistical manipulation. Last year the government lowered the poverty line, based on the skewed logic that, despite rising prices, Peruvians actually need less money to cover their basic needs. Anyone earning more than $102 a month is now considered ‘middle-class’, even though the legal minimum wage is $300 a month. Even by the government’s suspect figures, over eight million Peruvians live in poverty, with nearly two million in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 a day. 

    Nevertheless, the World Bank, in its infinite wisdom, has labelled Peru an ‘Upper Middle Income’ country and aid organizations have left in a mass exodus for more grant-rich pastures. The sudden drop in non-profit organizations, coupled with lack of government spending on essential services like healthcare and education, has increased the divisions in society.

    Protest against a US mine in Cajamarca, with communal food

    S Boyd, Guarango, GRUFIDES

    Ironically, most of Peru’s wealth comes from its neglected countryside. The economy is based on resource extraction, led by mining and followed by oil, gas and timber. But the profits have never gone to local communities.

    The looting and pillaging of Peru began 500 years ago with the Spanish conquest, fuelled by Europe’s lust for gold. More recently, a military government in the 1970s, hyperinflation in the late 1980s and a 20-year civil war made Peru a virtual pariah for foreign investors.

    As the country was emerging from this crisis in the early 1990s, then-President Alberto Fujimori began a full-scale auction of natural resources. Once again foreigners stampeded to a new El Dorado.

    Fujimori is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for corruption and crimes against humanity, including torture, kidnapping and murder. According to the country’s Truth Commission, at least 70,000 people were killed or disappeared during the civil war. But the Commission’s recommendations have not been implemented, especially in the area of reparations for victims. Many perpetrators of abuses remain at large.

    Presidents since Fujimori have continued his neoliberal economic policies. Peru is now the world’s sixth-largest producer of gold and second-largest of copper, but the benefits have failed to trickle down to mining communities, who are instead left with contamination and social conflict.

    Last year discontented voters elected Ollanta Humala to the presidency on a promise of bringing about a ‘Grand Transformation’, with development and equality for Peru’s indigenous and marginalized peoples.

    Humala passed a law on the rights of indigenous peoples to prior consultation, but loopholes allow the government to approve new concessions on indigenous land even if communities are opposed. Moreover, his first year in office has seen a major clampdown on protest and violent repression by police and military.

    It seems as though Peruvians are going to have to wait a bit longer for the Grand Transformation.


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