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Peruvian Official Resigns Following Indigenous Consultation Disputes

A top Peruvian government official responsible for intercultural affairs has resigned because of disputes in the government over prior consultation of indigenous communities.

Iván Lanegra, the Ministry of Culture’s vice minister for intercultural affairs, turned in his resignation on April 30 and it was accepted on May 3, according to entries in his Twitter account. He said his last day on the job was May 6. Observers expected other vice ministry staff members to resign or be replaced.

Lanegra has led the implementation of Peru’s prior consultation law, which requires that indigenous communities be consulted about any government decision or development project that would affect their collective rights. The law has been praised by indigenous-rights activists and criticized by some government officials and industry executives, who say it will slow investment in the country.

Lanegra’s office developed a database of indigenous groups that should be consulted about projects, identifying 52 groups. Four – Quechua, Aymara, Uros and Jacaru – are in the Andean highlands, while the rest are in the Amazon region. The database has not been made public, because it was challenged in Peru’s Constitutional Court by members of a highland community in the Ayacucho region who question the criteria on which it was based.

Lanegra has said publication of the database is not necessary for a consultation, however. The first such process is to involve an oil lease, Block 192, in the northern Peruvian Amazon, although Achuar communities in that area say pollution from past operations should be cleaned up first.

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Government officials disagree over whether highland communities should be considered indigenous, with some arguing that the term does not apply because of the mixing of races, or mestizaje, that followed Spanish colonization. During the agrarian reform of the 1960s, highland communities were termed “peasant communities,” while those in the Amazon are called “native communities.”

Peruvian President Ollanta Humala reinforced that view in a televised interview on April 28, when he said native communities were mainly in the Amazon.

Oil and gas operations are mainly in the Amazon, but the country’s most controversial mining projects are in the Andean highlands. Two – Conga, in the northern Cajamarca region, where the majority shareholder is Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp., and Cañariaco, in the central Lambayeque region, where the Canadian Candente Copper Corp. is exploring – have been the target of protests by local communities over the past year.

In both cases, some government officials have questioned whether the communities are indigenous, while others have said consultation is not necessary because the projects were approved before the consultation law was passed.

In late April, Humala’s Cabinet chief announced that 14 mining projects awaiting approval did not need prior consultation before beginning exploration. Both Energy and Mines officials and mining industry executives have complained that prior consultation would slow investment, affecting the economy. Minerals represent the largest share of Peru’s export revenue.