Disagreements continue over Tía María, the large projected copper mine in Arequipa. With the Consejo de Minería last week appearing to give the green light to the constructors permits for Tía María, ministers are insisting that the project will not go ahead until there is an agreement with local people and the environmental impact statements (EIAs) have been reviewed.

On 30 October, the Consejo de Mineria ruled on the three recursos presented to it in late July. These had claimed that the awarding of the construction licence to Southern Peru Copper to go ahead with Tía María was invalid for failures of procedure, above all in relation to environmental protection. The licence to proceed with construction was suspended that month following protests by local people.

The debate over Tía María was further embittered by a letter presented to the presidential palace on 28 October from groups in Mexico which had suffered from Grupo México’s operations there.  Grupo México is the majority shareholder in Southern Peru. The letter described various failures of safety measures, including the death of 65 workers in 2006 who had been trapped after an explosion of methane gas at Grupo México’s Pasta de Conchos mine.

The Consejo de Minería is an autonomous body within the Ministry of Energy and Mines, charged with ruling on such claims within a period specified by decree. In its ruling on 30 October it announced that it did not find the claims against the project to be valid. It thus ratified the awarding of the construction permit.

This was immediately assumed to signal that construction would go ahead. Protests quickly spread. Elmer Cáceres, the governor of Arequipa, denounced the decision and said he was taking his protest to the judicial authorities.  The regional government claims that it has been sidelined by the environment ministry from having any role in reviewing the environmental impact assessment (EIA).

The various bodies leading the protest swiftly met in the wake of the Consejo’s decision and agreed to continue their indefinite strike. Road blocks were resumed and clashes occurred with the police. On 30 October, as the strike reached its 109th day, six people were arrested.

Faced with this new wave of protest, María Antonieta Alva, the minister of economy and finance, made a statement on television that day insisting that dialogue was essential before the operations could begin, as the government considered the right environmental and social conditions were crucial.

The president of the Council of Ministers, Vicente Zeballos, then confirmed that the executive would not impose the project and that the Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental (OEFA) needed to review the EIA of 2014.

A statement by Environment Minister Fabiola Muñoz on 1 November further underlined this position. In an interview, she said that “although the Consejo de Minería has pronounced, it is a council that we as the executive do not control. It is autonomous. What we have to do is to make the [local] population understand that, despite the ruling, we, as the government, will not impose a project. Construction on a project which still has social problems should not begin”.

Southern itself has reiterated its commitment to only going ahead if social consensus can be obtained.