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.(http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/article-147.html) 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: