To say that I was intimidated at the thought of meeting with an ambassador is a vast understatement.
It was just a couple of days before that I had received an invitation to a meeting with the Peruvian ambassador from a group of advocates concerned about human rights abuses committed against people protesting the siting of a mine in the Andes.
My colleague who usually deals with international affairs was on vacation and I agonized for a little bit whether I could represent us. I decided that it would be good experience, and interesting if nothing else.
I contacted some of our Sisters in Peru to ask them about the situation, and one of them responded that she ministers in the affected area and has partiicpated in demonstrations against the mine. The big concern is that the project would drain some of the lakes and leave the people with no water source. The company has promised to build a reservoir as a replacement, but the people are understandably skeptical.
Meeanwhile, Mercy Investment Services, the responsible investing arm of the Sisters of Mercy, has been engaging in dialogue with the company as share holders.
So I gathered as much information as I could, and went to a meeting of advocates before walking over together to the embassy.
It was interesting just being among a different group of advocates than I usually see. Most of these were environmentalists or human rights advocates, and there was only one other faith-based organization among them.
I learned a lot at the meeting, and volunteered only to take notes, figuring that would keep me attentive to all going on.
We ended up with 13 advocates walking into the embassy’s conference room — and waiting a half hour for the ambassador to join us. He arrived with a secretary close behind, bringing him a tiny china cup of coffee. (She brought him another later in the meeting.)
The ambassador said the expected diplomatic things: the administration has been in office only for a year and inherited the problems of the previous president; the police had been ordered not to use guns in confrontations with protesters so it couldn’t have been them who shot and killed and injured people. He did agree, though, to encourage his government to sign the Voluntary Principles for Security and Human Rights, which was a good outcome in itself.
I did ask one question: How would the government make sure that the people retained their right to water? He responded that that was a “very technical issue” but that an independent reviewer had determined that if all recommendations in the environmental impact assessment were followed, “the interests of the people would be preserved.”
We’ll have to keep monitoring the situation, for sure.