The Peruvian government’s decision to deploy troops last week to reinforce the police force in the battle over Tía María appears to have inflamed the situation still further. On 12 April, a three day strike began across the Arequipa region, leading to pitched battles both in Peru’s second city as well as in the Islay province, where the mining project is due to be built, and in the port of Mollendo. Even the head of the mining lobby group, the Sociedad Minera, has called for Tia Maria to be suspended, for several months if need be. http://www.larepublica.pe/14-05-2015/dia-de-violencia-en-valle-de-tambo-y-arequipa-por-paro-regional-contra-tia-maria

As we pointed out recently, the communities of the Tambo valley have the organisation, the resources and the will to stop Tía María from going ahead. Much has been made in the media of how those who have led the protests were seeking to stop a project which would bring economic returns to Arequipa and the south of Peru, but the farmers of Islay see things very differently: they see Tía María doing irreparable damage to their crops and their incomes.

The project has been badly handled from the start. When first announced under the García government, the people of the valley were not consulted first. Then, when Southern Copper came up with its Environmental Impact Assessment in 2011, it was found to have severe deficiencies. In the protests that ensued, Ollanta Humala – then a candidate for the presidency – gave his strong support to the demonstrators, along with others who now figure large in the current government.

The last straw in the saga came last week when it was revealed that Southern, part of the Grupo México (a Mexican conglomerate), had tried to pay the farmers’ leaders large sums to call off their protest. Pepe Julio Gutierrez, who apparently arranged to receive a cash payment from Southern, was arrested by police on charges of extortion on 15 April.

The latest move in sending in the troops can do little except inflame matters more. Though it may (or may not) bring a temporary respite to the protests, it does nothing to resolve the points at issue. Dialogue or no dialogue, the people of the Tambo valley are not likely to retreat in their determination to prevent Tía María from happening. It seems increasingly unlikely that Southern will be able to go ahead with the project, leaving it, like Conga in Cajamarca, suspended indefinitely.