A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Peacebuilding and Extractives, Part II

SOUTH BEND, South Bend, Philadelphia, USA (MindaNews / 11 Sept) – The conference—PEACEBUILDING AND EXTRACTIVES: INTEGRAL PEACE, DEVELOPMENT AND ECOLOGY—held at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana just finished with the participants committed to producing an anthology of essays aimed at producing “a groundbreaking work of scholarship that will help fill gaps in the academic literature and better connect that literature to the Church’s practice.” This conference was convened by the Catholic Peace Network (CPN) of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies of the University of Notre Dame held last 5-7 September 2019 at the UND’s Jenkins Hall.

In this conference, 18 scholars from Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America came together to discuss various realities and discourses. It began with the presentation of case studies indicating the concrete interfacing of the eruption of violence whenever there are mining encroachment into delicate eco-territories (especially homelands of indigenous peoples), the impact of mining on the worsening global warning leading to greater impact on climate change and the ensuing peacebuilding efforts of civil society organizations (including the Catholic Church) to mitigate if not prevent the further escalation of violent hostilities. This was followed by various presentations dealing with the social ethics involved in extractive industries, the inroads into possible alternatives to destructive mining, debates regarding just mining or responsible mining, the possibilities of engaging corporate mining firms in terms of dialogue and doable approaches towards countering the power-relations defining relationships between the network of those that make the supply chain of mining and networks that oppose their expansions.

The case studies were presented by Bro. Karl Gaspar CSsR (Philippines); Fr. Rigobert Minani S.J., the Director of Jesuit Social Ministries for Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola (Congo); Mr. Andrés McKinley, a Water and Mining Specialist of the Central American University of Jose Simeon Cañas (El Salvador); a staff member of the Derechos Humanos Y Medio Ambiente Puno (Peru); and Sandra Polania-Reyes, of the Keough School of Global Affairs of UND (Colombia). In all case studies, there are convergences in terms of the destructive consequences of big-scale mining through many decades already going back even to the colonial regimes. One positive note is what happened in El Salvador, where finally one State decided to stop all kinds of mining which shows the possibility if a national government takes on a political will to end the operations of the mining industry.

Three other resource persons brought in information regarding the international dynamics of engaging the mining industry. Dr. Ray Offenheiser, Director of the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development and former of Oxfam America, highlighted the need to reach out to the heads of mining corporate firms towards engaging them in dialogue. Having been invited to the table surrounded by executives of such corporate firms, he sees the possibilities of opening up a dialogue but which demands that the language to be used by eco-advocates should be understandable to those who hold power in decision-making regarding mining investments. While this path is difficult, he sees possibilities which eco-advocates should explore.

On the other hand, Mr. Tebaldo Vinciguerra, a staff advisor of the Holy See Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, came from the Vatican to attend this forum. He echoed the Pope’s concerns in terms of the needed ecological action passionately stated in the Apostolic Letter—Laudato si’—as well as the concerns that will arise in the Amazon Synod in October. He shared some of the initiatives of their Vatican office in reaching out to representatives of the global mining sector in the hope of opening paths for dialogue. Atty. Doug Cassel, Professor Emeritus of Law of the UND, also shared his insights into possibilities of dialogue. In the past he was part of a pool of lawyers who filed cases against mining firms. These days, however, he claims that he operates from the inside in the hope that he can influence mining firms to be more responsive to the challenges demanded by human rights groups and the urgency of dealing with climate change.

Considering the theme of this conference, naturally there was need to deal with the discourses involving Development and Social Ethics on one hand, and Governance and Human Rights on the other hand. Fr. Albino Barrera OP (a Filipino Dominican but who now belongs to the OPs in the USA) spoke about the need to agree on basic principles that would guarantee that the mining industry follow ethical procedures in their operations. Dr. Clemens Sedmak, a professor of Social Ethics at UND, brought in the theological underpinnings through which we can discourse on how “we are judged by committing sins against nature”. Two other resource persons added to the urgency of brining in the issue of governance and human rights when engaging those in the extractive industries. They were Dr. Katherine Marshall, a professor of the Practice of Development and is a Senior Fellow of the Berkley Center of Religion, Peace and World Affairs of Georgetown University, and Fr. Elias Opongo SJ, the Director of the Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations in Nairobi, Kenya.

But is there such a thing as a “just mining”? This was asked and discoursed by Dr. Tobias Winright, Associate Professor of Theological Ethics at St. Louis University. This question echoes our own concerns in the Philippines considering that there are those who openly are against wide scale open-pit mining but are open to allowing small-scale mining. Parallel to his discussion on just mining is the idea of “the just war theory” recognizing the validity of engaging violence if this is the ultimate approach to ending the abuse of the environment and communities affected.

One more major topic that got discussed involved how a collective response to resist the powerful domination of the extractive industries could evolve by dealing with networks. Dr. Vincent Miller, the Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture of the University of Dayton, did an analysis of the network of the supply chain that have worked efficiently through the years. Despite the wars, violence, people’s resistance, highs and lows of the market, the network constituting how the extractive industry have managed to extract resources, deliver them to ports, transport them to where they can be processed into metals and eventually into gadgets and machineries and eventually get sold in the markets. There is no question that this network manages to sustain all its needed operations towards accumulating huge profits for those who manage and own these corporate firms. Dr. Miller’s question is if the Church – with its own global network – has the potential and capacity to mobilize this network to counter the extractive industry’s network?

At the end of the conference, all the scholars involved in this project agreed to fine tune the outlines presented and to do their best to beat the deadline of the submission of their Chapters so the book can be published before the end of next year.

[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” two books on Davao history, and “Ordinary Lives, Lived Extraordinarily – Mindanawon Profiles” launched in February 2019. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw).]