Saturday, December 02, 2006

Opening remarks at Peru Support Group Conference today

Its a great pleasure to welcome you all to this 2006 Annual Conference of the Peru Support Group, the theme of which as you know is Peru under Garcia, Democracy and Civil Rights.

May I particularly welcome our distinguished speakers Susana VillarĂ¡n, Romy Garcia of DEMUS and Karim Flores of Asociacion Aurora Vivar who have come here all the way from Peru.

There are some themes which emerge naturally from the events of the past year, and first and foremost is the implications for democracy and civil rights of the elections in which President Garcia came to power following a run-off in June. We are extremely fortunate in having Susana VillarĂ¡n, who was a candidate in the Presidential elections, to speak in our first session, about the likely scenarios for Garcia’s term of office over the next 4 ½ years.

The record of his first Presidency is always described as ‘controversial’, a rather mild description for the mismanagement of the economy which led to Peru’s default on its international debt, and hyperinflation which reached 8,000%, to say nothing of ushering in the decomposition of the political parties and facilitating the Fujimori coup of 1992. They say he is a reformed character, and The Economist refers to him as ‘New-model Alan’, saying that he is bending over backwards to appear moderate. Unlike other recently elected heads of state in Latin America, he is doing his best to please the Americans, in the hope that the US Congress will sign a free trade agreement with Peru. But his narrow victory, particularly in the July run-off, may have been more to do with negative voting against other parties, rather than the popularity of what APRA had to offer.

That conclusion seems to have been reinforced by the local elections a fortnight ago, and I particularly look forward to hearing Jon Crabtree’s take on this in the first workshop session after lunch, in which he is dealing with The balance of power since the 2006 general election. My only regret is that it coincides with the presentation by Paul Trawick on The moral economy of water in Peru, a subject which is likely to rise up the agenda in Peru as elsewhere, as the terrifying consequences of global warming start to bite. Peru is particularly vulnerable to climate change because some 70% of its electricity comes from hydroelectric plants, supplied mainly by meltwater from Andean glaciers which are likely to disappear altogether over the next 50 years. The meltwater is also used for agriculture and industry and to supply Peru's desert coast, home to more than half the country's population.

We also have a difficult choice to make in the second session this morning. when the workshop on The non-negotiable rights of Peruvian women run by Romy Garcia Karim Flores clashes with Tom Pegram’s parallel workshop on The politics of human rights in Peru. Peru has a good record of gender parity in both primary and secondary education, the keys to women’s empowerment in the medium term future, but for the time being there are still some major problems including endemic domestic violence and a general failure to acknowledge the right of women to control their own fertility. Unfortunately the UK hasn’t much to contribute on this front in spite of the efforts we have made to mainstream gender equality in our aid programme, because we no longer have a presence in Lima. DfID’s regional policy, run from La Paz since 2004, doesn’t appear to contain any specifically Peruvian projects of any kind, let alone any that are addressed to the needs of women.

On the question of human rights following the general election, there are some worrying developments. As you know if you’ve had time to look at the latest issue of the PSG Update, I wrote to the Foreign Office Minister David Triesman who deals with Latin America on behalf of the Group, expressing our concern over legislation passed by the Congress in Peru which appears to us to threaten the freedom of NGOs working in Peru. All NGOs, fomestic and foreign, now have to register with a Peruvian government agency, and if they are deemed not to be working towards the goals of the national development plan they can be terminated. As some NGOs have been critical of the government’s policies in the past, and as there is a history of attacks and intimidation by government on human rights NGO critics in Peru, there is every reason to be apprehensive about the intentions behind this law, which experts think is contrary to both the Peruvian Constitution and the ICCPR. I am pleased to say that the Minister shares some of our concerns, and notes that the Peruvian Congress has postponed the final vote on the law to allow time to consider its compatibility with the constitution, and to enter into a dialogue with the NGOs on possible further amendments. Although we are not directly involved in that process, Tom Pegram’s workshop may allow us to make suggestions that could be of use to the many NGO friends of the PSG.

Another matter of concern to be discussed no doubt in that session is the fourth draft law to extend the use of the death penalty since President Garcia came into office, tabled on November 11. Amnesty International warn that two of these ills would entail withdrwal from the American Convention on human rights, thus denying citizens the right of petition to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

Last but by no means least, we shall be discussing the question Mining: who loses, who benefits? Corporate resonsibility and citizen security under the guidance of Martin Scurrah. This is a subject we have dealt with before, and we return to it in the context of growing disquiet in Peru about the lack of consultation by the government with local communities resident on, or owning, land affected by the projects concerned, and without a framework of revenue sharing which is fair to local and national governments, a problem which arises almost everywhere there are large scale mining or oil and gas developments. It was very good news that Peru signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in June, giving citizens access to fully published and verified details of company payments and government revenues from oil, gas and mining. At least, people in the area of extractive developments will be able to monitor the revenue they generate, and thus to make an informed assessment of whether they are getting their fair share. As I may have said before, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises also calls for collection of information on the environmental, health and safety impacts of their activities, the establishment of measurable objectives for their environmental performance, and the regular monitoring and verification of their progress towards environmental, health and safety targets. They should provide the public and employees with adequate and timely information on all these matters, and should engage in consultation with the communities directly affected by their environmental, health and safety policies. Where there is evidence that a company is not adhering to these guidelines, and domestic remedies in the host state have been exhausted, those affected or their representatives, including NGOs, can formally apply to a person designated as the National Contact Point in the state where the company involved is headquartered. This person first decides whether a complaint is does refer to a breach of the guidelines, and then makes his good offices available to the parties in an attempt to reach agreement on the matter in dispute> If this fails, he has power to issue a statement ad make formal recommendations on the implementation of the guidelines.

As you know, the PSG published a report on Mining and poverty in 2005, in which some of the issues covered by the OECD guidelines were canvassed. It was reported that under Fujimori an unprecedented number of mining permits were granted, and the economy is heavily slanted towards the extractive industries including the Camisea natural gas megaproject, which may generate large revenues for the state but carry penalties. The Energy and Mines Minister Juan Valdivia told Congress that the cost of dealing with environmental problems caused by mining and oil operations would be $800 million, and the culprit was the lack of a proper regulatory framework

I think we have enough on our plates in this agenda to keep us going for several days, and I will save a minute or two of my allotted time by handing over now to the chair of the Conference, Linda Fabiani MSP. I had the pleasure of Linda’s company when we visited Peru together with Des Browne MP in 2000 immediately after the fraudulent elections of that year, and just before the Marcha de los Quatros Suyos which led to the democratic opening and the Toledo Presidency. Linda has maintained her limnks with the PSG and her enthusiasm for democracy and the elimination of poverty and gross inequality in Peru since then, and I look forward to an enjoyable and productive day under her guidance today.

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