I was recently asked by the Inter-American Dialogue to answer the following question (in 250 words):
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala on Dec. 4 declared a state of emergency 60 days in the Cajamarca region. Local groups say a $4.8 billion gold mine will be detrimental to the region’s water supply and protests have threatened the project. The conflict also spurred a major cabinet reshuffle in the young government; Humala replaced 10 ministers on Monday, including Prime Minister Salomon Lerner. How well is Humala balancing the desire to promote economic growth with the demands from his base of support? Will the confrontation in Cajamarca erode support for Humala and his party? Does the government have a strategy to deal with the protests? What changes will the cabinet reshuffle bring?
Here is my reply, which appears in the Latin America Advisor, Monday, December 19, 2011:
The cabinet crisis and emergency measures have created alarm about the prospect that President Humala is taking a hard line on protests, aligning with investors over local communities, asserting the power of the military, and adopting a caudillo-style of rule. These are all real concerns, and deserve to be watched closely, but they may be overstated. The cabinet retains members like Rafael Roncagliolo who inspire confidence for those who want to see a balanced approach to mining and consultations with affected populations. Nobody said it was going to be easy to manage the hundreds of conflicts created by extractive industries. It is unclear that the military has more power in the new cabinet, or that Humala is building the foundation of a civil-military regime. At least Humala is trying to govern. Previous governments have sat on their hands or even made protests worse by either ham-handed repression or ill-conceived concessions. That said, the loss of Lerner is significant — he has been credited with much of Humala’s success so far. Emergency measures can easily provide cover for the abuse of power. The rupture with Toledo and Peru Posible creates challenges for making the legislature work. Although I’m not signing in the chorus of denunciations just yet, the emerging pattern is troubling.