Tía María is no longer just a conflict between the farmers and people of the Tambo valley in Arequipa and a mining company, Southern Peru Copper, but a conflict over the future of mining investment in Peru and the rights of people to oppose projects that threaten their social and environmental standing.
On the one hand, Confiep, the umbrella organisation that represents the whole gamut of private business has been upping the pressure on government for months on an issue that it considers vital for corporate initiative. It has recently announced its so-called Agenda País which seeks to orient government decision-making to heed its various demands. For the National Association of Mining and Petroleum, this is a cri de coeur.
As readers of the PSG Newsletter will recall, if no license from the government was forthcoming, Southern Peru would have to renew its Environmental Impact Assessment since its previous EIA expires in August.
On the other hand, parties of the left – Frente Amplio and Nuevo Perú – have lent their support to the agriculturalists of the Tambo valley in what they consider a make-or-break case for the protection of community interests.
And, perhaps predictably, the Vizcarra administration has come down on the side of business. Last Monday, 8 July, it became clear that the government had approved the license for Southern Peru to go ahead with Tía María. The evening of the day after, the Ministry of Energy and Mines issued a public statement that confirmed this. Curiously, the government has called on Southern to defer development of the mine pending further dialogue with local communities.
The response from those opposed to the project was not slow in following. On the morning of 10 July, the communities of the Tambo valley announced the initiation of an indefinite strike as of Monday 15 July. A violent confrontation appears imminent. 400 additional policemen have been dispatched to the area.
Seeking to avert violence, regional governors have issued a statement calling on the government to continue with dialogue, a somewhat forlorn hope now that the authorities have issued the green light for Tía María. We will be following this closely in the weeks to come.