Rio Blanco returns to the front line

27 November 2016

An agreement appears to have been reached between the Peruvian government and the Chinese Xiamen Zijin Investment Development Corporation to push ahead with the development phase of Rio Blanco. This is potentially one of the world’s biggest copper mines, but it has met with consistent opposition from the highland communities of northern Piura region.

In 1994 it was reported that a site known as Henry’s Hill, close to the border between Peru and Ecuador, was a good prospect for a copper mine; the project later became known as the Rio Blanco project. An exploration phase followed, controlled in the latter years by Monterrico Metals Plc and its Peruvian company Minera Majaz SA. The deposit has been estimated to contain 1.26 million metric tons of copper with grade of 0.57% and 228 ppm (parts per million) molybdenum. This makes Rio Blanco one of the world’s biggest copper deposits still to be exploited.

In 2007 the company halted exploration following vigorous objections from local communities on environmental grounds. A referendum was held in which 97% of local inhabitants opposed the project.( Also in 2007, the company sold the project to a Chinese consortium Xiamen Zijin Tongguan Investment Development Corporation preparatory to the development phase of the mine. In 2009, despite the referendum and with no consultation, the government approved a new plan for making good the environmental impact of the exploration. This plan was completed by the end of 2010, when the company closed the mining camp.

Despite the referendum and ongoing hostility to the mine, the project is still very much on the cards. The communities now find that a new plan has been approved (still without any prior consultation) allowing seven years for completion and looking toward a new phase of exploration in 2021. The deal was recently signed with the Chinese consortium in the context of the APEC summit in Lima. The Fundaciόn Ecuménica para el Desarrollo y la Paz (Fedepaz) has issued a strong warning to the authorities that the people’s views need to be taken seriously.

Coincident with this, according to Fedepaz, the communities have been noting some ominous developments. In particular, Fedepaz says, there has been a worrying increase in military and police presence in the area, and the massive burning of the surrounding forest (26,000 pines). It is alleged that the purpose of the latter is to implicate the communities in contamination resulting from illegal mining in the zone.

Fedepaz wishes to ‘alert public opinion to the fact that this is not the best manner of handling environmental disputes, nor is the attitude of the present government of continuing to ignore the will and the legitimate decision of communities to choose their own forms of development.’

For further information on the development phase of the mine see:

All articles

  • PSG Aims

    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

  • Historical Overview

    Over the past century Peru has suffered a series of autocratic governments and a civil war in which nearly 70,000 people died. Many of the country's ongoing political and social problems are a legacy of its somewhat turbulent past. 

  • Human Rights

    Human rights violations were widespread during the twenty years after the initiation of armed conflict in 1980. Efforts to convict perpetrators since the war's end have made only limited progress. Today, concerns remain over the treatment of those engaged in social protest, particularly against strategically important investment projects.

  • Why join the PSG?

    • Keep up to date with latest news and developments in Peru
    • Learn about key issues of poverty, development and human rights in Peru
    • Support the work of the Peru Support Group

    Become a member