Tía María is a large copper deposit located in the south of Peru in the province of Islay, in Arequipa. The rights are owned by Southern Peru Copper Corporation, a subsidiary of Grupo México. From the very start of Southern’s involvement, there have been serious concerns over the mine’s impact on water supplies for local agriculture in this relatively prosperous river valley.
In 2011, protests against the project led to the deaths of three people. The project was then put on hold. A revised Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was approved in August 2014, although the construction permit is still pending. The EIA led to a new round of protests which, in March 2015, included a march by 800 people; many were injured. In May 2015, three more people died in the protest, and the project was again put on hold.
Today, Southern is increasing its pressure on the government to grant it the construction permit which would enable the project to get going. The pressure is growing in part as the date on which the current EIA expires (August 2019) is drawing near.
Meanwhile the government has restated its commitment to avoid imposing a decision on the communities, while the company says it is winning community support. Its latest effort to this end is a survey indicating that 66% of those surveyed in the Tambo valley, the key area affected, consider that the project will benefit the local population.
Tía María’s opponents, however, claim that the company has not published the data necessary to evaluate the representativeness of the sample used. Even if this is validated, Southern still needs to learn a fundamental lesson: to win back trust requires complete transparency. Adding to the current climate of distrust are the legal cases hanging over community leaders arising from their role in the 2015 protests.