Seven weeks after Pedro Castillo was ousted as Peru’s democratically elected president, protests and blockades continue across the country. Nearly 60 protesters have been killed amid the unrest since Castillo was impeached and later arrested on December 7, a move Canada immediately endorsed.
Canada’s Ambassador to Peru, Louis Marcotte, has worked hard to shore up support for Dina Boluarte’s replacement ‘usurper’ government. Since mid-December Marcotte has met with President Boluarte, as well as Peru’s foreign minister, vulnerable populations minister, and mining minister.
It is rare for a Canadian ambassador to have so much contact with top officials of any government. The diplomatic activity highlights Ottawa’s commitment to consolidating the shaky coup regime, which has been rejected by many regional governments and has seen multiple ministers resign. The diplomatic encounters are also an indirect endorsement of Boluarte’s repression. Security forces have shot hundreds and detained many more.
The Canadian ambassador’s diplomatic visits are also an affront to the demands of the protesters who want Boluarte to resign. The Indigenous-led popular uprising has also been calling for immediate elections, Castillo’s release from jail, and a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution.
Marcotte’s meetings follow similar moves by US Ambassador Lisa Kenna. Washington’s representative in Peru has also met with Boluarte, the foreign minister, and mining minister. On January 18, Boluarte approved a draft resolution “authorizing the entry of naval units and foreign military personnel” into Peru. Having deployed troops to Peru on a number of occasions, the US is the likely target of this measure (when the leftist Túpac Amaru guerrilla group took dozens of foreign diplomats hostage at the Japanese embassy in Lima in 1996, Canadian JTF-2 special forces reportedly participated in the US-led rescue effort that left all 14 guerrillas dead, many of them reportedly executed).
Alongside supporting the US in shoring up the Boluarte regime, Canada has massive mining interests in Peru. After meeting the coup government’s mining minister, Marcotte tweeted, “with Minister Oscar Vera Gargurevich, we talked about modern mining investments that benefit communities and all of Peru. Ready to support the Peru delegation at PDAC [Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada] 2023, the most important mining exploration convention in the world, March 5-8 in Canada.”
Con el Ministro Oscar Vera Gargurevich @MinemPeru, hablamos de inversiones mineras modernas que beneficien a las comunidades y al en conjunto. Listo para apoyar a la delegación en #PDAC2023, la convención de exploración minera más importante del mundo, 5-8 de marzo en pic.twitter.com/dNCybPwTHl— louis marcotte (@louiscmarcotte) January 18, 2023
Canadian mining companies dominate in Peru. According to the former Latin America coordinator for MiningWatch Canada, Kirsten Francescone, 71 Canadian firms operate there. They have $9.9 billion in assets, which was equivalent to 4.5 percent of Peru’s GDP in 2021.
As an illustration of the size of Canadian mining investment in Peru, Canadian banks have moved into the country to finance their activity. In 2006 Scotiabank announced it was expanding operations there to do more business with mining clients.
During his election campaign Castillo criticized foreign mining companies. He promised stronger environmental regulations and that some profits would go to communities in mining regions. His largely dysfunctional government failed to adopt any major reform though he may have emboldened protesters who targeted foreign companies with long strikes and blockades, which paralyzed mining production.
Corporate Canada is constantly expressing concern about resource nationalism internationally. Executives of Canadian mining companies have repeatedly criticized efforts by Venezuela, Bolivia, Mexico and other countries in the region to gain a greater share of the profits from mining.
Largely a product of neoliberal reforms, the legitimacy of Canadian firms is tenuous. Before 1990 no Canadian mining company operated in Peru. They’ve also spurred significant violence. Long opposed by locals, Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals was targeted after Castillo’s ouster. Protesters burnt and damaged their machinery and vehicles in the south of Peru.
When MiningWatch employee Jen Moore was detained by Peruvian police for supporting communities harmed by Hudbay, the Trudeau government failed to follow its recently introduced policy on protecting environment and human rights defenders facing repression abroad. A Justice and Corporate Accountability Project report released last month titled The Two Faces of Canadian Diplomacy details Canadian officials’ indifference to Moore’s 2017 detention. Ottawa’s unwillingness to defend a prominent Canadian activist reflects the deference of the diplomatic apparatus to mining interests in Peru.
Ottawa has plowed significant resources and diplomatic energy into advancing Canadian mining interests in the Andean nation. The federal government has supported many individual mining projects and worked to provide the industry with a profitable investment climate. Since the early 2000s Ottawa has channeled tens of millions of dollars into Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines and mining related initiatives. In 2010 the Canadian International Development Agency spent $500,000 on a World Vision Canada/Barrick Gold project intended to pacify local opposition to the Toronto-based company’s mine in Peru.
Earlier, in 2008, the federal government signed a free trade agreement with Peru largely designed to protect Canadian investors. According to a Foreign Affairs Canada fact sheet published that year, “an investment chapter in the Canada-Peru FTA locks in market access for Canadian investors in Peru and provides greater stability, transparency and protection for their investments.”
Ambassador Marcotte’s meeting with the post-coup government’s mining minister suggests Ottawa remains committed to helping Canadian firms extract profits from Peru. Its interests in protecting democracy and human rights in the region is another matter entirely.
On February 7, Yves Engler will be speaking at a webinar entitled Canada and the Uprising in Peru, hosted by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute.
Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.