Sunday, July 1, 2012

Plan B. Yes. B.

The typical line of thinking when a business really, really wants to use land that's currently occupied by a house or a neighborhood is conventionally thought to be 'get the land and to hell with whoever's living there'. You hear horror stories of eminent domain and lost local heritage and starting construction on all the land except one house occupied by a holdout and the like.

What you don't normally hear about- what doesn't tend to even come close to happening- is what's happening in Morococha, Peru, or at least what's being attempted.

Morococha is a small mining town 67 miles northeast of Lima- 92 if you drive (and 20 miles from the notoriously polluted and currently-shutdown La Oroya mine), housing about 5,000 people. It's more or less what you'd expect a poor mining town to look like. It also happens to sit in the way of the Toromocho copper mine, owned by a Chinese state-owned mining company, Chinalco. (Specifically, it's intended to be an open pit mine.) One might expect that, it being a Chinese company, and the town sitting inside land designated for mining by the Peruvian government, they'd just go ahead and start whacking houses down.

Not quite.

The Chinese government is at least dimly aware of the importance of maintaining not-entirely-hostile relations abroad, and really, how would you feel if your own personal home got targeted for demolition by a company owned by a powerful foreign government on the other side of the world?

On the other hand, how would you feel if that same foreign government was offering to basically build your entire town a brand new, much nicer town 15 miles down the road, rent-free? You might feel a little different about things now. There's also a $2,000 cash payout, which doesn't sound like much to American ears but is a lot more significant in an impoverished Peruvian mining town. (Well, most of the town will get this, anyway. There was a 2006 moving-in deadline. If you arrived in town after that, then it's pretty much just the first scenario.)

The key word here is 'might'. There's still a debate raging in Morococha. Not that it's going to matter much in the end- this move is going to happen, as per the results of a 2008 referendum- but there's still a debate. Naturally, the people not getting new homes are in the 'against' camp. The mayor of Morococha led some protests two years ago citing concerns that Chinalco still isn't meeting enough of the residents' needs, that the payout is too low compared to what they feel they could have gotten, and that the new town's location is too humid. (Protests that were broken up by the cops, as viewable here.) And of course, there are always those people that, no matter what their home is, still consider it their home and they'll be damned if they get moved from that spot until they're good and ready.

Chinalco puts the percentage of residents currently in favor of the move at 75%. But then, that's Chinalco's number. I can't get it confirmed elsewhere. All I can get is the fact that a "majority" voted in favor in 2008.

The fact that it was indeed a referendum that kicked off the move does help take the edge off things a little bit. And it's certainly better than what Chinalco could have pressed for. But displacement is still displacement.

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