Communities protest at Las Bambas

2 October 2015

Some 7,000 protesters gathered at the Las Bambas mine in Apurímac region on 28 September at 4,000 metres above sea level to protest against the operating plans of MMG, the Chinese owners of the mine. Roads were blocked and a truck was burned, as well as several properties, and an indefinite strike declared. Clashes with police brought three deaths (all protesters) and many wounded, and the detention of 27 protesters. Three are still being held, accused of disturbing the peace, aggravated damage and illegal possession of arms.

The protest concerns the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which according to the local communities has been modified without any proper consultation with them. The mine was purchased by MMG from Glencore Xstrata in 2014. The protesters want the closure of a molybdenum and a filtration plant on grounds of contamination. Other demands concern the inclusion of additional territories in the 'zone of influence' of the mine, as well as changes to the way in which mineral is transported to the coast for shipment. The Ministry of Energy and Mines, it appears, was consulted about these changes but claims that the environmental impacts are insignificant.

The deaths shook Peru, bringing the total of those killed in social conflict in the last five years to 94. And again, as with Tía María, rumours immediately began to circulate of the involvement of 'outside forces'. The government's immediate response was to back the company, stating that environmental approval had been correctly sought. Prime Minister Pedro Cateriano made clear his view that the project, which is due to come on stream next March, would go ahead irrespective of local protests. Hitherto, Las Bambas has been rated something of a success story in good company-community relations.

On 29 September, a State of Emergency was declared over a wide swath of the southern Andes (six provinces, four in Apurímac and two in Cuzco) and 300 additional police and soldiers sent in. The Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) meanwhile appealed for dialogue with 'true representatives of the people'. By 30 September, community leaders declared themselves willing to call a 48-hour truce and appealed for a high-level commission to come to Apurímac to negotiate with them. As we went to press the government was still resolutely declaring it would only negotiate 'with the proper elected authorities', not with the Frente de Defensa which claims to represent the communities. ;

This conflict is of exceptional importance. Las Bambas is supposed to yield 450,000 tons of copper a year for its first full year of production. The reserves of copper are estimated to be the largest in Peru to date and among the four largest worldwide. According to Cateriano, production from Las Bambas alone will add 1.4 percentage points to GDP.

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