The pendulum movement: Unstable political settlements for artisanal and small-scale mining in Peru

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The formalization of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) has been hampered by various policy implementation bottlenecks. The politics that explain this failed implementation are often associated with subnational agendas and local clientelist networks. In this article, we question the “locality trap”. Following a political-economic and geographical approach, we bring into dialogue political settlements and ASM formalization literature to analyze the multi-scalar coalitions that configure formalization in Peru, stressing the role of economic and political elites, and the actors enrolled in their policy iterations. We suggest that many of the policy and administrative formalization shortcomings can be explained in terms of multi-scalar coalitions and the territorial projects they mobilize around natural resource governance. We bring this conceptual framework to examine the Peruvian case. Changing elite-led coalitions over the past thirty years have constantly reassessed ASM's value for economic development against the fabric of Peru's political settlement, balancing large-scale mining (LSM) and foreign direct investments as the chosen source of revenue with episodes of political crisis. We characterize these back-and-forth changes with the pendulum movement, which produces unstable institutional arrangements that preclude ASM planning. We interpret that ASM informality is one way to stabilize working environments amidst rapid and poorly implemented policy shifts. In conclusion, we propose that the erratic and uneven configuration of ASM geographies is more sensitive to political instability and elite-led responses to crisis than to subnational actors alone, or commitments to balance the responsible development of ASM with environmental protection. We suggest that tackling this instability is crucial to advancing any SDG project that untaps ASM contributions.




Benites, G. V., & Ubillús, A. V. (2022). The pendulum movement: Unstable political settlements for artisanal and small-scale mining in Peru. Environmental Science and Policy, 136, 78–90.

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