The second round of the Peruvian electoral campaign was marked by fear, polarization and the proliferation of economic proposals linked to the extraction of natural resources. Despite the pronounced socio-environmental conflict and the growing global importance of environmental crises, proposals from both environmental policy areas have been treated superficially.
The pandemic and the environmental agenda
Peru has the second largest extension of the Amazon – surpassed only by Brazil – and more than one in five Peruvians identify as indigenous. In 2020, the country recorded its all-time high for forest loss in the Amazon, five conservationists were killed and there were 140 cases of environmental conflicts and an increase in the number of injuries and deaths compared to 2019. .
In Peru, the pandemic has not only meant the pain of thousands of people for the loss of loved ones, but also the widening of great inequalities in rural areas. In these regions, poverty and the environmental crisis worsen as many illegal industries such as cocaine production, logging and alluvial gold mining grow unchecked.
In these times of crisis, the Peruvian Congress rejected the approval of the Escazú agreement and mapped out a way to stimulate or unblock the economy by relaxing certain environmental regulations. On the other hand, the Ministry of the Environment encouraged initiatives and technical provisions. For example, in 2020 the regulation of the climate change law was approved, and in April of this year the government approved a decree aimed at mitigating and preventing risks to conservationists. .
However, these efforts are difficult to implement and the integrity of Protected Natural Areas, as well as other areas, may be exposed to deforestation, which has increased sharply in recent years.
A discourse centered on people and economic growth
In the May 23 presidential debate and in the plans of the government of Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza Popular) and Pedro Castillo (Peru Free), none of the candidates presented a solid technical environmental image. On the one hand, the left-wing candidate’s project, without developing implementation strategies, underlined the importance of reducing socio-environmental conflicts and reassessing traditional knowledge. While the right-wing candidate stressed the importance of transforming nature into monetary wealth, but with environmental standards.
After more than two decades of intensifying extractive activities, the affected rural areas show no improvements or increase in services, but rather a growing distrust of the central state. Keiko Fujimori’s proposals to increase the distribution of economic gains and social assistance vouchers to populations in extractive areas have not been enough, and it is Pedro Castillo, who comes from rural areas and proposes a change of model of development, which received the support of a very large majority in these regions. This indicates that economic compensation does not appear to be an attractive alternative for those marginalized citizens who depend culturally, socially and economically on a healthy environment for their survival.
The challenge of an environmental agenda
Faced with the Covid-19 crisis, citizens who lived in areas with an intermittent or poorly articulated central state presence took refuge in their traditional knowledge and remained active in the defense of their lives, their territory and of their rights.
Several days after the election, and without an official winner due to protest processes, the campaign of fear, which highlights the differences between the coastal towns and the rest of the country, continues.
On the one hand, from the right, the fear campaign is based on emphasizing the left’s links to terrorism and that this will turn the country into a new Venezuela. While on the other side, the left warns against a return to authoritarian neoliberalism of the 1990s that violated human rights.
The disjointed and unambiguous approaches do not offer a real solution to the few environmental proposals developed by one or the other of the candidates. Corruption undermines efforts to protect the environment and feeds on the commodification of nature, endangering defenders of the land. But fighting corruption is not enough. Environmental policies require a strong scientific and technological component. However, its production is not necessarily inclusive and has limited articulation with policy making. Ensuring the equal participation of all citizens is fundamental, but it will not be enough if this participation is not interactive, supported and binding in decision-making.
Why do democracy and the environment go hand in hand?
With an economy dependent on extractive activities and a long history of exclusion of indigenous populations – highlighted in this campaign – environmental and decolonial agendas are intertwined and becoming increasingly urgent in Peru.
The Peruvian territory is home to a great cultural and biological diversity, but, at the same time, it is a racialized space. The new government’s environmental and economic recovery program must include a deep and dynamic understanding of the relationship between people and Peru’s diverse landscapes. In recent decades, progress has been made in environmental policies and indigenous rights, but not enough.
This electoral campaign, loaded with differentiating and hierarchical arguments with a racist tendency, perhaps points to the fundamental elements to create a global environmental agenda that addresses the structural problems of a multicultural and multiethnic society.
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