Many of us are idealists at heart. We have our core sets of beliefs and we will unapologetically defend them in arguments with others. Like us, politicians have ideals that they hold dear to their hearts. Unlike us however, a politician occasionally needs to act in ways different from his or her beliefs. This is obviously true of Barack Obama, and it is also true of President Ollanta Humala of Peru. A recent mining crisis has shown that while he was elected as a populist liberal, Humala has shown himself willing to put politics aside for the benefit of his country.
After the electoral victory of Ollanta Humala, there were question marks looming over his intentions. In a previous article, I mentioned how it was unclear as to whether he intended to introduce socialist policies to redistribute wealth, or if he would continue the pro-business policies of his predecessor, the conservative Alan Garcia.
A test of Humala’s vision came quickly after his election. Protests against foreign owned mines had been occurring before Humala took office. The protests are simple to understand. Locals claim that the mines are environmentally destructive and do little for the people of the surrounding communities. Local farmers also object to millions of dollars in concessions that have been given to the foreign owned mining companies. Miners have clashed with police, paralyzed traffic, closed mines, and destroyed warehouses.
Anti-mining protests are nothing new in Latin America, flip through the pages of history and notice how many politicians run with pledges either to increase foreign investment or nationalize their country’s mines.
While he made a campaign promise to exert greater control over mining companies, upon becoming president, Humala also understood the undeniable fact of the Peruvian economy – it needs the mining industry. Peru is the “third-largest copper miner and the sixth- largest gold producer” in the world, and mining provides for half of its tax revenue and a sixty percent of its export revenue. In other words, without mining, Peru would be financially devastated.
In a recent move that pleased business leaders and prevented financial disaster caused by the protests, Humala declared a state in the Cajamarca region, where the protests are taking place. This declaration essentially gave the military the authority to squash the protests and restore order. As a result, the protests ended, the mines reopened, and business as usual is taking place in Peru.
Nobody likes hearing stories of the military cracking down on dissent and arresting protestors, but fewer people like hearing tales of a poor, economically backward Latin America. The originally idealistic Ollanta Humala won election by making promises to be a true man of the people. In siding with the mining companies over anti-business protestors, Humala has shown that sometimes life needs us to be more practical than idealistic.