Subplot one: Tia Maria, its proponents and opponents

10 August 2019

One sub-plot concerns the government’s handling of the row surrounding Tía María, the proposed mine in Arequipa that is being tenaciously opposed by an alliance of farming interests in the province of Islay and other actors elsewhere in Arequipa and, indeed, beyond.

This involves a rather different sort of conflict, but one common enough in Peru in recent decades: large-scale mining projects are opposed by local interest groups which feel that mining has little to offer them, but can bring severe environmental and social problems.

But as we pointed out two weeks ago, this is not just a localised confrontation but one which involves a clash in development models: those of extractive industries versus those that seek to broaden the base of the economy and make it more sustainable.

The way in which Vizcarra handles the Tía María conflict thus has wider ramifications that also impinge on the conflict with Congress. It is partly for this reason that he has sought to back-pedal from an initial decision last month to give the green light to Southern Peru Copper to proceed with developing the mine pending further negotiations. His tone has hardened since then to one of stressing the impossibility of pushing ahead without a social license. As we went to press, the ministry of energy and mines announced that it had been decided to suspend authorisation of Tía María for up to 120 days.

Opposition to his stance has come not only from the mining companies and their lobby organisation, the SNPMP, but also from Confiep whose former head, Roque Benavides (of Buenaventura Mining) has been outspoken in his comments.

The extent to which the business community as a whole sides with Vizcarra as against the fujimoristas in Congress remains unclear, but there are clearly links that go back a long way between important business groups and the Fujimori dynasty. It was, after all, the business sector that emerged as the main winner from Alberto Fujimori’s neoliberal reforms of the 1990s. Many business executives, both from legally constituted corporations and less-than-legal operations (such as the drug trafficking mafias) enthusiastically financed Keiko Fujimori’s campaign in 2016 in the hope of the benefits that might accrue.

Meanwhile public sympathy for large mining conglomerates is not strong. It is for this reason that the governor of Arequipa, Elmer Cáceres, has given the protesters at Tia María his unequivocal support, echoed in turn by a good many other governors in southern Peru which also confront conflicts over mining concessions.

As if to underline the connections between plot and subplot, APRA said it was willing to dialogue over the referendum with Prime Minister Salvador del Solar, but only at Tía María “in the presence of the poorest of the poor” 


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