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Exploring the politics of water grabbing: The case of large mining operations in the Peruvian Andes

Milagros Sosa
Irrigation and Water Engineering Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands; milagros.sosa@wur.nl
Margreet Zwarteveen
Irrigation and Water Engineering Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands; margreet.zwarteveen@wur.nl

ABSTRACT: The operations of the large mining company Yanacocha in Cajamarca (Peru) provoke and require a fundamental reshuffling of how rights to water are allocated, resulting in changes in the distribution of the benefits and burdens of accessing water. We use this paper to argue that these changes in water use and tenure can be understood as a form of water grabbing, since they result in a transfer of water control from farmers' collectives and government agencies to the mining company, with the company also assuming de facto responsibility over executing water allocation and safeguarding certain water-quality levels. We illustrate - by using two cases: La Ramada canal and the San José reservoir -€“ the company'€™s overt and covert strategies to achieve control over water, showing how these are often backed up by neo-liberal government policies and by permissive local water authorities. Next to active attempts to obtain water rights, these strategies also include skilfully bending and breaking the resistance of (some) farmers through negotiation and offering compensation. The de facto handing over of water governance powers to a multinational mining company raises troubling questions about longer-term water management, such as who controls the mining company, to whom are they accountable, and what will happen after mining operations stop.

KEYWORDS: Water grabbing, water rights, water governance, mining, Peru