Tia Maria: the government takes protest seriously

29 July 2019

Ahead of his major speech for Fiestas Patrias, Martín Vizcarra exerted all the authority he could muster to calm the situation at Tía María. On Wednesday 24 July he went to Arequipa in person with Prime Minister Salvador del Solar and the ministers of agriculture, environment, and energy and mines. With continuing protests in Arequipa itself – clashes with police involving the use of tear gas, and the continuing strike – he spent nearly three hours in debate with the seven governors of the southern regions of Peru. His approach reflected the value he places of the regional system, a product of his own background as former regional governor of Moquegua.

The debate covered the 'recurso' or petition issued by the governor of Arequipa, Elmer Cáceres as well as the statement made the previous day by the regional governors. The former sought to revise the decision to award its construction permit to Southern. The granting of this permit is the key step which would allow the project to advance while avoiding the necessity of resubmitting the EIA. The latter asked that the Mining Law currently in force (dating from 1993) should be radically revised, and appealed for an effective process of decentralisation, increasing the revenue the region receives from mining activity. 

The case made in the recurso (a document with no legal force) against the construction permit argues that prior work and commitments that had been recommended by the Ministry of Energy and Mines did not occur. The case for the revision of the Mining Law argues for inclusion of prior consultation and full incorporation of environmental and social impacts. Reform of the current mining legislation looks likely to provoke opposition from mining companies, with Roque Benavides openly criticising the proposal.

At the end of the session, the president made surprisingly strong announcements geared towards creating an atmosphere of constructive dialogue. Over the coming week, the recurso would be subject to legal and technical revision and, in the light of this, the decision to give the green light to the project would be reconsidered. Materials submitted by the governors would be included. Plans would be made to revise the Mining Law, acknowledged by the president to be obsolete and in need of reform.

Further, as a gesture of commitment to peaceful dialogue, the police would be withdrawn from the areas of protest. After the week of work, according to the governor of Arequipa, the president had indicated that he would himself go to the Tambo Valley to meet the key actors in the protests there. 

Vizcarra’s various press statements show his determination to calm the situation. The company likewise appears to be interested in calming things down. Having responded to the granting of the construction permit by saying the project would not go ahead without a greater degree of acceptance by the population, on 27 July Southern produced a statement congratulating the government on the 198th anniversary of Peru's Independence and stating that although it was convinced that the construction permit was correctly granted it would agree to postponing the project until “a more favourable social climate” can be achieved.

To that end, it said it would strive to explain more successfully why the project would not affect the environment and economic activities of the province of Islay.

Meantime, the local mayors and the Frente de Defensa still demand the project be scrapped.

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