Peru’s Frente Amplio: The Emergence of a Post-Extractivist Left

By Carlos Monge*


An abandoned gold mining project in the Cajamarca region, Peru / Wikimedia / Creative Commons

The surprising emergence of the Frente Amplio (FA), a coalition of political parties, social organizations and independent activists, in Peru’s recent presidential and congressional elections signals the first significant support for the Peruvian Left since the collapse of the Izquierda Unida in the 1980s.  The Left was not able to present its own alternatives in the ‘90s, the early 2000s, and again in 2011.  In October 2015 barely 13 percent of Peruvians knew about FA’s internal election to select presidential candidates.  Veronika Mendoza had the support of only 1 percent of intending voters, and over 60 percent of Peruvians did not even know who she was.  Nevertheless, FA ended up receiving 18.74 percent of the vote in the first electoral round, coming in third and only a couple of points behind Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK), who secured 21.05 percent and ended up defeating the Fuerza Popular’s candidate, Keiko Fujimori, to become President for the 2016-2021 period.

FA’s “post-extractivist” program has been key.  Breaking away from the nationalist redistributive programs of leftists in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, and Argentina, FA espouses economic diversification and tax reform rather than more mineral or hydrocarbon exports to sustain economic growth and public incomes.  FA also emphasizes the need to protect the environment and renewable natural resources for future generations and to recognize indigenous rights to territories, autonomy, direct political representation and effective consultations.

  • These are not only electoral campaign ideas. Indeed, FA local activists and national leaders have maintained staunch opposition to emblematic mining projects such as the Conga project in the northern Cajamarca region and the Tía María project in southern Arequipa.  In the same way, FA is denouncing that the new government is trying to lower air quality environmental standards to ease foreign investments in mineral smelters and has harshly criticized the new Minister of Production for abandoning the National Plan for Productive Diversification launched by the outgoing Ollanta Humala administration.
  • Frente Amplio is grounded in social movements that have long confronted extractivist projects. Veronika Mendoza left President Humala’s Nationalist Party in 2012 in a dispute over his repressive response to socio-environmental protests around mining projects in the highlands of her native Cusco.  Tierra y Libertad, FA’s largest party, has its roots in the Cajamarca rondas campesinas resistance against the Conga project.  Another factor is that the end of the commodities “super cycle” has moved extractive rents off center stage.  Even in Venezuela the official discourse is now moving in the direction of economic diversification.

Frente Amplio is not alone in Latin America in attempting to build a post–extractivist platform, but it seems to be the region’s most successful.  Similar policies were at the heart of the presidential campaign of Alberto Acosta and a coalition of social and indigenous organizations in Ecuador.  And in El Salvador, the Farabundo Martí government is also keeping extractivist temptations at bay.  But Acosta did not manage to get significant support or to build a stable political alternative, and El Salvador is not a major commodity exporter.  The importance of the FA experience is that it happens in a significant mineral and gas producer, that it has had immediate electoral success, and that it can become a permanent political player in Peruvian democracy.  FA and PPK will probably agree on issues such as the fight against corruption, crime, and violence against women, but they will certainly disagree over macroeconomic and sector policies, such as taxes.  Also, FA has denounced PPK for his call to lower air pollution standards and for his authorization to large fishing factories to operate up to 5 km off the coast, leaving very little for artisanal, small scale, internal market-oriented fishing activities.  Where this ends up is anybody’s guess, but this is certainly a process worth keeping an eye on.

August 29, 2016

*Carlos Monge is Latin America regional director at the Natural Resource Governance Institute in Lima.

Confusion over “Responsible Mining”

By Robin Broad

Anti-minng campaign, El Salvador / Photo credit: laurizza / Foter / CC BY

Anti-minng campaign, El Salvador / Photo credit: laurizza / Foter / CC BY

One of today’s buzzwords – “responsible mining” – is like most others, so vague that it means whatever its user wants.

  • For most corporate executives and many government officials, mining is responsible if it aims to maximize economic growth and economic profits, because mainstream economic theory tells us that that will make everyone better off in the most efficient way.  In this view, the benefits multiply and trickle down to the poor.  In terms of environmental impact, some proponents of this view argue that as a country grows in economic terms, certain environmental pollutants decrease.  The governments of Guatemala and Honduras, which have increased the number of licenses granted to global mining corporations, seem to embrace this definition.
  • Some corporations cast the definition of “responsible mining” within their concept of “corporate responsibility.”  Typically, such companies do not change the production process itself, but rather commit to using some profits to do something “good.”  In the Philippines, for instance, Australian-headquartered OceanaGold plants trees near its mine and contributes to medical missions and community programs.
  • Yet another definition of “responsible mining” focuses on increasing the portion of the economic and financial benefits of mining that accrue to the Southern “host” country versus to the foreign mining entity.  This typically centers on increasing the taxes levied on the mining companies.  A more “progressive” version of this approach emphasizes how much of the funds stay on a local versus national level within the host country.
  • The ideal – and probably least common – definition of “responsible mining” involves a comprehensive assessment of long-term economic, social, and environmental costs and benefits.  This requires the free, prior, and informed consent of local communities before corporations influence communities or officials with social “contributions.”  Environmentally, it involves careful assessment – based on full information by an objective party – of the impact of the mining, including all chemicals used in the mining process, all toxins released, and the broader environmental impacts and risks.

The ideal definition may sound like pie in the sky, but it is not.  Case in point: The government of El Salvador has not issued new mining licenses since 2008, primarily because a growing citizens’ movement has rallied around protecting the affected watershed, which supplies the majority of the country and is already severely polluted.  So too did the Salvadoran government demand a Strategic Environmental Review, overseen by both the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of the Economy, to try to weigh  the economic benefits (wages, taxes, etc.) during a mine’s limited life against social and environmental impacts.  Indeed, in El Salvador, as in the Philippines, grassroots communities and some key elected officials are trying to give deeper meaning to the definition of “responsible mining,” so that it is no longer merely a buzzword.

Dr. Broad is a professor in American University’s School of International Service.