Peruvian Cardinal Comments on Mining Conflict

Archbishop of Lima Speaks on Problems in Cajamarca

| 1892 hits

By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, JULY 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Peruvian Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne commented on the conflict between mining companies and farmers in Cajamarca and Celendin, saying: “We, members of the clergy, must be humble and not talk about issues that are not our competency.” Here is the interview with ZENIT which took place on Rome on July 5.

By late last week five protesters have died following clashes with police over a dispute regarding Peru’s President Ollanta Humala’s crackdown on a rally against a $5bn gold mine proposed by mining company Newmont.

According to Reuters official data shows at least 15 people have died during Humala's term in protests over natural resources, and 174 were killed in similar circumstances from 2006 to 2011 during the time of his predecessor, Alan Garcia.

Water is often a source of conflict in Peru, which is the world's No. 2 copper producer. Farmers fear companies will pollute alpine lakes or use up scarce water resources they need for their crops.

ZENIT: Your Eminence, there are social conflicts in Peru because of mining projects, especially in Cajamarca. What does the Church have to say?

Cardinal Cipriani: We must be careful when speaking of the Church in regard to any temporal situation, because the Church has a mission which transcends earthly realities, being centered on the salvation of souls. The Church has credibility among the people in the measure that she preaches the Word of God. We, members of the clergy, must be humble and not talk about issues which are not our competency. We, bishops and priests, exist to form consciences well, so that they will be free in the truth and responsible in justice.

If we assume that the Church is a political or sociological institution, we are mistaking the reality of the Church, whose essence is supernatural and we must see her in the light of faith. It is from the doctrine of the Church, rooted in the content of the Gospels, that during the 20th century papal teaching elaborated the Social Doctrine. We must refer to it every time we meet with a temporal conflict, such as the conflict in Cajamarca.

ZENIT: But do bishops and priests have something to say faced with concrete conflicts that confront the people with the police, as we are witnessing?

Cardinal Cipriani: Yes, bishops and priests must guide the people to prayer. Prayer isn’t a religious practice devoid of content. It is to raise the heart to God to speak with Him about ourselves, to ask Him to illumine us to resolve conflicts in a peaceful way. With God, of course, one must speak the truth. One cannot pray with deceit and lies.

We, ecclesiastics, don’t have a magic wand to resolve social problems on our own. We must always tend to truth, to speak the truth be it with God or among us men. Dialogue is a means that aims at social peace. Dialogue isn’t an end in itself.

How much I would like to see the parish priests of the different villages of Cajamarca call their parish faithful to gather in the churches to pray for peace, for truth, without proposing concrete solutions which it is not for them to offer.

ZENIT: Can the Social Doctrine of the Church inspire bishops and priests to give guidance to the parties in conflict, or must they be content with praying?

Cardinal Cipriani: Of course the Social Doctrine of the Church can guide not only bishops and priests, but especially the lay faithful to find solutions to every conflict, also Cajamarca’s. However, in this conflict the search for the common good is a complex problem. At stake are very large investments of money, natural resources that must be preserved, ancestral peasant traditions, government development policies, tourist factors that give work to many, among others. One must first hear what the experts have to say.

Let’s not forget that the international minerals market: gold, silver, copper, have agents interested in exploiting one oilfield as opposed to another, or in having one company exploit a field as opposed to another. We cannot join those who believe naively that it is a struggle of idealistic defenders of the poor or of nature, against pragmatists who wish to multiply material wealth in any way, or of a political authority that doesn’t reason.

ZENIT: Authorities of the Peruvian government explained the reasons that moved them in the case of Celendin, the need for investment to create employment and to fight poverty, and it would seem that no one wants to listen.

Cardinal Cipriani:  Confrontation with the legitimate authority, with marches, blocked roads and stones leads to police repression resulting in dead and wounded, not to a meeting for a proposal that takes up the true part that each of the parties might have. I see that the population suffers from the influence of ideological approaches weighted down with prejudices.

By definition, neither the extraction of minerals is an outrage to the culture nor does mining investment on its own bring the integral transformation of peoples. In the case of Cajamarca – and Celendin -- I think the government has negotiated sufficiently, has been calm and has waited for local leaders to understand that they cannot be entrenched in the obstinacy of a radical position that does not lead to the solution of the conflict.

ZENIT: Don’t you think that international companies are not interested in negotiating with the people and only go to seek wealth?

Cardinal Cipriani: There were cases of this type in the past everywhere in the world. However, in the 21st century there are international norms that condition investment loans; there are national laws that protect the environment; there are Ministries of Culture, of Agriculture and of the Environment, not only of Energy and Mines. I have read in the newspapers that several studies have been made to protect the sources of water for the use of the population and the irrigation of lands for cultivation. However, all attempts at dialogue have ended badly, perhaps because some local leaders act in keeping with their own political agendas. A few days ago I learned that the President of the Republic succeeded in coming to an agreement with the district mayors of Cajamarca. Perhaps it’s the beginning of peace.

ZENIT: Have you thought of intervening directly in the conflicts of Cajamarca and Celedin?

Cardinal Cipriani: I am the archbishop of Lima. The area where these conflicts are taking place has its own bishop, who is the one who should answer this question, always within the limits of the Social Doctrine of the Church. I lived through the homicidal violence of the Shining Path for 11 years in Ayacucho, and for four months experienced the violence of the MRTA in the residence of the ambassador of Japan in Lima. I have seen how dialogue with lies doesn’t resolve anything.

Unfortunately, those who act remembering Marxism and the class struggle cannot come to an agreement through dialogue alone. Their obstinacy leads to the loss of human lives and I don’t want to believe that local leaders seek it to justify their outrage.

Let’s not forget that we Christians pray every day so that political leaders will be able to find the way for the development of the people, respecting the dignity of the human person, the truth and justice of the peoples. Let us pray also for the dead and wounded in Celedin. From Rome, without detailed information on what has happened in recent days, I cannot say more.

[Translation by ZENIT]