Across much of southern Peru mining projects continue to raise concern and varying degrees of protest, but the most worrying at the moment is Tía María in Arequipa. Protests broke out anew last week following the decision of the Consejo Nacional de Minería (CNM) to invalidate the three formal complaints against the granting of the construction permit to the Southern Peru Copper.
The government continues to insist that all is not yet a done deal. Juan Carlos Liu Yonsen, the minister of energy and mines, said on 4 November that the CNM ruling refers only to the construction of the processing plant. There remains, for example, the permit for a desalination plant which requires the approval of the Navy and the National Water Authority (ANA). While the government, he said, will respect the finding of the CNM, the project will not be imposed. Dialogue and the obtaining of the informal ‘social licence’ remain important, he claimed.
Meanwhile protesters in the Tambo Valley have dug in for the long haul. They have decided to run road blocks for just half the day, allowing protesters to return to their work for the other half. They maintain that in this manner they will continue with their protest actions until President Martín Vizcarra comes to meet them in person.
On 6 November, the protest moved for the day from the Tambo Valley to the streets of Arequipa, helped along by the civil construction union (or at least some 300 or 400 of its members), all demanding the cancellation of the project. The spokesperson for the union argued that while construction workers may get employment in the short term, they will suffer in the longer run for lack of water and food.
At the regional level in Arequipa, the government announced on 7 November that it will present a formal complaint (una demanda contencioso-administrativa) requiring the annulment of both the original construction licence and its ratification by the CNM.
Meanwhile, at Las Bambas in Apurímac, MMG (the Chinese-owned company developing the project) has announced that it is considering abandoning the controversial road link to the port and that it wishes to revive the earlier plan to transport mineral by pipeline. This appears to have had a positive effect in calming protest while local people wait to see if this is a serious option.
At Quellaveco, protesters continue to express concern over contamination of the river Tumilaca. This is denied by the company. They lack the degree of support that protesters have at Tía María, a point made by Moquegua’s regional governor, Zenon Cuevas, in a speech on 7 November. He highlighted some by the differences between Anglo American in Moquegua and Southern Peru Copper at Tía María. Cuevas stressed that, in his opinion, mining and agriculture could co-exist and that Anglo had more of a social agenda than Southern.
A new article by José De Echave, the former environment vice-minister, gives background to the situation at Tía María and why it is proving so difficult to work through (Hildebrandt en sus Trece, Year 10, Nº 467, 8 November 2019, page 17). He starts by reviewing other major protests (Tambogrande in 2002, Cerro Quilish in 2004, Rio Blanco in 2007, Santa Ana in 2011 and Conga in 2011 among others. These had ended in suspension because of acceptance over their unviability, and he reviews the differences. The analysis is salient and thought-provoking.