Documentary shows Canadian connection in Peruvian mining conflict

  • May 7, 2010
Devil's OperationThe tale of a priest, the devil, a mine and the mine’s private army has hit the Toronto Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival just as Canada is debating whether it should give taxpayer money and government services to mining companies with poor human rights and environmental records outside Canada.

The Devil Operation
, produced and directed by Canadian filmmaker and journalist Stephanie Boyd, adds to a list of recent documentaries that feature a Canadian connection, mining, human rights violations and environmental disaster, including Return to El Salvador, the story of how a protester against a Canadian mine turned up dead, and Under the Rich Earth which explores the use of private paramilitary squads by Canadian mining companies in Ecuador.

Boyd’s take on a similar story in Peru tells how the largest gold mine in South America mounted a sophisticated spying and surveillance operation against a Catholic priest and members of a local environmental group.

The devil in the title of Boyd’s film is Fr. Marco Arana, a parish priest who serves communities near the Yanacocha Mine. He was nicknamed El Diablo by employees of a private security firm whose job was to follow, film and photograph the priest’s every move.

Arana has been an intermediary in a number of conflicts between police and anti-mine protesters. Members of the Grufides anti-mining group who organized the protests and mounted legal challenges to the mine’s expansion plans are also followed and filmed by the security firm. Boyd and Grufides fight back by turning their own cameras on the spies.

The result is Boyd’s first full-length documentary.

“I felt like I was involved. I had passed from being a detached journalist to being involved, to being affected,” said Boyd in an interview before The Devil Operation premiered at the Hot Docs Festival April 30.

For Arana, the film is an opportunity to talk about how the mine threatens the existence of poor farmers in his parish.

“The film shows a reality that is often obscured,” Arana told The Catholic Register.

The series of immense open pits that constitute the Yanacocha gold mine are cut from mountains surrounding Arana’s parish, with predictable impact on the water supply that is essential to local farmers.

The story is about a conflict between two ways of understanding life, said Arana. The indigenous Peruvian farmers see life as a process of discovering yourself in nature, living in harmony with nature and connecting with the God who created and sustains the natural world, he said.

“The mining companies are part of a system of understanding the world that says life is about making more money — everything is for sale and everything has a price,” said Arana.

For the priest, the choice between a motherlode of gold and poor subsistence farmers is easy.

“Are we going to defend life and the right to life or an idol?” he asks.

The Yanacocha Mine is owned by American multinational Newmont Mining Corporation, which has a major Canadian subsidiary, Newmont of Canada, listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Bill C-300, a private member’s bill making its slow passage through Parliament, would deny Export Development Canada money and Canada Pension Plan investments to any Canadian mining firm found to have overseas operations that violate accepted international standards.

Arana hopes the law will pass.

“The law in Canada will be very important,” he said. “All it says is they can’t do overseas what they can’t do in their country.”

Boyd believes her film is a story of good versus evil, but that doesn’t mean she thinks the mining industry is full of evil men in black hats.

“I realize there’s a lot of interest within the mining industry to improve the social and labour standards,” she said.

Two previous documentaries Boyd helped produce have been shown to Barrick Gold Corporation executives.

Arana hopes the film will show people how evil has insinuated itself into our lives and our economy, but also that evil doesn’t always win.

“People will realize that evil doesn’t triumph — that it is discovered and brought to light,” he said.

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