Undermining the Local: Power, Acceptance, and Confidence surrounding a Chilean Mining Operation : Social Impacts of the Mining Operation Los Pelambres on the Cuncumén Community
Abstract: The present ethnographic research explores the socio-economic repercussions of a copper mining operation in Chile on its host community. By examining the development of the relationship between this local community and the mining company since the latter’s arrival, this thesis sheds light on the possible (secondary) impacts of corporate social responsibility (CSR) measures and participatory spaces on intracommunal dynamics. Previous work has emphasized that enduring relationships involving participatory decision-making are crucial to build up trust and acceptance towards mining operations. However, these studies have not sufficiently focused on how such participatory mechanisms and ‘friendly’ relationships play out within the communities, on an intracommunal level. This research has addressed this gap by conducting an ethnographic fieldwork in a local community and capturing the community member’s view on the role of the mining company and their CSR measures for them and their community as a whole. This thesis found that the troublesome past with the mining operation has damaged the host community’s trust and acceptance in the involved mining companies. While disappointment and distrust were carried into more recent negotiations, community members also build up confidence and hope for a more harmonious relationship bearing new opportunities for their community. However, tracing back the history between the local community and the mining company, the thesis found that relations between the mining company and locals oscillated between protest against and dialogue. This shows that while (in-) direct economic benefits are recognized and appreciated, detrimental environmental impacts are not overlooked and still denounced. Furthermore, the rather corporate- than community-centered approach of the mining company’s CSR is criticized because it (1) neglects the common good, and (2) treats some groups/individuals in the community as more entitled to receive benefit than others. A general lack of reflection on the part of the mining company is attested: the mining company’s CSR leads to unwanted intracommunal discontent. The majority of the community leaders have full-time jobs and other obligations in addition to the time-consuming roles and related engagement on behalf of the community. On top of that, they lack sufficient support and participation of other community members to advance the work in the participatory spaces more efficiently and address the shortcomings of the commitments of the mining company accurately. However, there are historical reasons, rumors about corruption related to the mining company, and a violent discussion culture which step by step lead to a withdrawal of many community members from participating. In general, distrust, disunity, and disinformation dominate the atmosphere when it comes to the participatory spaces – but also more and more when it comes to community life itself. This in turn was observed to be both a product of and precondition for a prevailing victim mentality among the community which is characterized by demotivation, passivity, and pessimism. Valuable energy is trapped in a vicious circle rather than channeled towards action: there is no unified effort to address the problems on a community-mine level, the community stays overwhelmed, and in turn, has a hard time focusing and targeting the different issues they are facing systematically.
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