An ‘indefinite’ strike was called on Monday, March 23 against the Tia María copper and silver mining project in the Valle del Tambo in the Arequipa region of southern Peru. Demonstrators blocked the Pan American highway and violent clashes followed with the police. There appear to have been some injuries. On the following Friday (March 27) came a shock announcement from the company, Southern Peru Copper, that it was scrapping the project and terminating its investment in the area.

The plan had been to produce 120,000 tons of copper cathodes a year for an estimated life span of 20 years. “Our company isn’t ready to be a victim of these violent persons, even more so when the government doesn’t give us the guarantees and the needed back-up” said Southern Peru’s director of institutional relations (http://www.wsj.com/articles/southern-copper-scraps-tia-maria-copper-project-in-peru-1427471246).

The announcement took the government by surprise, with the Minister of Mines and Energy saying she was in conversation with the company and that “the company was expected to reverse its decision” (http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/southern-copper-peru-tiamaria-idUSL2N0WT1GE20150327).

These events of course have a history. In October 2009, the company’s EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) sparked strong opposition. A popular consultation followed (note, not a ‘prior’ consultation) with 90% of those consulted voting against the project. The EIA was reviewed by the United Nations Office for Project Services, which found many imperfections.

The EIA was eventually declared ‘inadmissable’ by the government and the project suspended. A revised EIA was eventually approved by the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) in 2014, despite imperfections, according to José De Echave (http://www.cooperaccion.org.pe/opina/43-cooperaccion-opina/2598-sobre-tia-maria-y-el-paro-en-islay). The MEM then announced that the license would be approved by mid-March 2015 – hence the mobilisation and the ‘indefinite’ strike.

It should be noted that all this has occurred without use of the ‘prior consultation’ law. This in Peru has so far only been used in the jungle region (see our report last week on its apparently successful use in the case of the Forestry Law. The data-base of communities eligible to engage in prior consultation so far contains none from the highlands where most mining projects are located.

The Tia María case, and many like it, underlines the urgent need to extend the scope of prior consultation.