The work of the body responsible for supervising and penalising environmental damage, OEFA (Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental), is painstaking and its results often frustrating.

In a country with thousands of mining operations, big and small, it would take an army of professionals to supervise all properly. But the functioning of the OEFA, which is in part funded by the very companies it is seeking to oversee, is itself under attack. On 22 September, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled in favour of a mining company, Perubar, which had complained about the system by which OEFA funds itself from the companies it supervises. The case threatens to undermine OEFA’s future activities.

At the same time, the example of a mine in Moquegua provides but one example of the problems of bringing companies to book. The Tucari mine, owned by a company called Auntani SAC, is accused of causing contamination of the Coralaque river, a water course that flows into the Tambo River downstream. The Tambo valley, as readers of the PSG Newsletter will recall, has been the scene of one of the most bitter battles between local farmers and Southern Peru Copper, a subsidiary of Grupo México.

OEFA carried out an inspection of the mining operation in June, following complaints from locals that the river had turned a yellowy-brown colour. The OEFA detected 14 sources of acidic water leaching out into the river system. It issued its findings in a document published on 25 September, arguing that the company had failed to maintain adequately systems for treatment of contaminated waste from the mine. The company denies such negligence.

OEFA has given the company 30 days to remediate the situation and 45 days in which to treat the ground where contamination has taken place.

But it has so far been unable to say exactly the extent of the damage or to prove who has been responsible. According to officials, this information should be made available at the end of November, and any penalties levied against Auntani will depend on this. Aruntani is one of Peru’s larger gold mining operations with mines in Puno and Moquegua.