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What You Need to Know to About Growing Opposition to Peru's Tía María Mining Project

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Street protest against Peru's Tía María mining project. Image obtained from Otra Mirada, used under Creative Common license.

Below is an edited version of a post originally published on the blog Globalizado.

In Peru, five people have died during more than 60 days of protests by agricultural workers concerned about the environmental impact of a major copper mining project called Tía María, which aims to extract the lucrative mineral from two pits in an area at the southern tip of the country. As a result, the government has declared a state of emergency in Islay, one of the strategic provinces targeted for mining operations in the Arequipa region.

As calls for a general strike multiply, a variety of media outlets have published their take on the reasons for widespread opposition to the proposed Tía María mines.

In early May, when the strike by agricultural workers reached day 40, environmental news site Actualidad Ambiental published a comprehensive report on its website, including a chronology of events leading up to the current conflict:

- 2003: Inicia el proyecto minero “Tía María”, con una inversión anunciada de US$ 1,400 millones. Comprende la explotación de dos yacimientos a tajo abierto: “La Tapada” (425 338 000 ton de mineral de cobre oxidado) y “Tía María” (225 377 000 ton de mineral de cobre oxidado), incluyendo dentro de su área de influencia el valle de Tambo, los distritos de Cocachacra, Mejía y Deán Valdivia, en la provincia de Islay, región Arequipa.
– 2006-2008: Se realizan actividades de exploración.
– 2008-2009: Se elabora el primer Estudio de Impacto Ambiental.
– 2011 (marzo): UNOPS (The United Nations Office for Project Services) presenta su informe del Estudio de Impacto Ambiental del proyecto minero “Tía María” y realiza 138 observaciones.
– 2011 (abril): En medio de protestas, 3 personas mueren por enfrentamientos con la Policía.
– 2011-2013 El proyecto es paralizado.
– 2013 (noviembre): Se presenta el segundo Estudio de Impacto Ambiental (elaborado entre el 2012 y 2013).
– 2013 (noviembre): Southern Perú presenta el segundo Estudio de Impacto Ambiental al Ministerio de Energía y Minas.
– 2014 (agosto): El Ministerio de Energía y Minas aprueba el segundo Estudio de Impacto Ambiental.
– 2015 (marzo): En medio de un clima de tensión se retoman las protestas contra el proyecto Tía María.

- 2003: Tía María project is launched with a proposed investment of US $1.4 billion. It targets exploitation of two open-pit deposits, La Tapada (425,338,000 tons of oxidized copper ore) and Tía María itself (225, 377,000 tons of ore), which are located within a larger area that includes the Valle de Tambo, the CocachacraMejia and Dean Valdivia districts in the Islay province of the Arequipa region.
– 2006-2008: Exploration is undertaken.
– 2008-2009: First environmental impact assessment is done.
– 2011 (March): The United Nations Office for Project Services presents its Environmental Impact Study of the Tía María mining project and conducts 138 surveys.
– 2011 (April): Amid protests, three people are killed in confrontations with police.
– 2011-2013: The project stalls.
– 2013 (November): Second Environmental Impact Assessment is presented (undertaken between 2012 and 2013).
– 2013 (November): Southern Perú [Southern Copper Corporation, Peru branch] presents the second Environmental Impact Assessment to the Ministry of Energy and Mines.
– 2014 (August):The Ministry of Energy and Mines approves the second Environmental Impact Assessment.
– 2015 (March): In a climate of increasing tension, protests against the Tía María resume.

Actualidad Ambiental also put together information about the principal actors in the conflict, indicating whether they are for or against the project. Among the former are the officials of Southern Copper Corporation, which is spearheading the project, and officials of Peru's federal government. Those against the project include local mayors.

A key question posed by Actualidad Ambiental is, “Why don't local people trust Southern Copper?” The answer might be that the company has “a history of environmental claims against it.”

Algunas posiciones en el conflicto dejan claro que el problema no es la actividad minera por sí misma sino que el proyecto sea realizado por Southern Perú. Richard Ale Cruz, alcalde provincial de Islay, lo expone claramente cuando dice: “No estamos contra la actividad minera pero sí contra la empresa”. ¿Por qué la desconfianza en el sur del Perú contra Southern Perú? En esta nota se ha desarrollado una lista del desempeño ambiental de la empresa desde los años 50.

Many positions taken in the conflict clearly distinguish between mining activity in general and the fact that this project is being undertaken by Southern Copper. Richard Ale Cruz, provincial mayor of Islay, doesn't mince words: “We don't oppose mining, but we do oppose the corporation.” Why so much suspicion about the mining conglomerate in this region of southern Peru?  Because the company has a record of showing blatant disregard for the environment in Peru since the 1950s. 

The report from Actualidad Ambiental concludes with one last question: What are the points on which Tía María and local residents cannot agree? The short answer is that “agriculture in the Valle de Tambo will be affected as will the sources of water.” But Southern Copper sees things differently:

– ¿El proyecto afectará la agricultura del Valle de Tambo?

No. Pese a que las voladuras o explosiones generan ruido y polvos, no afectarán al valle del Tambo porque el tajo está a 2 km. del poblado más cercano, por la diferencia altitudinal impide que el ruido llegue al valle o a la población, porque el material chancado de roca se almacenará en un depósito cerrado y porque el viento sopla en dirección noreste, dirección opuesta al valle o cualquier centro poblado.

– ¿El proyecto afectará el agua del valle del Tambo?

No, porque se usará agua de mar (desalinizada) para el trabajo de explotación y operación. Además, se menciona que el tajo abierto no afectaría el agua subterránea y que la disponibilidad del agua para la agricultura es de 800 millones de metros cúbicos, de los cuales 500 se van al mar como excedentes y y seguirían estando disponibles para las actividades agrícolas de la zona.

– Will the project negatively impact agriculture in valle de Tambo?

No. Despite the fact that blasting and explosions are loud and generate dust, these will not affect the valle de Tambo because the pit is 2 km away from the nearest populated area. The difference in altitude means the noise won't reach the valley or the local population, because the crushed rock will be stored in a closed warehouse, and because the wind blows in a northeastern direction, opposite to the valley or any inhabited area

– Will the project negatively impact water in valle de Tambo?

No, because (desalinated) sea water will be used for mining and other operations. Moreover, open-pit mining will not affect groundwater. 800 million metric tons of water are available for agriculture, of which a surplus of 500 flows to the sea and will be accessible for agricultural activity in the area.

A previous GV article raised the question of whether Peruvian police and the press are conspiring to criminalize the Tía María protesters. 

In an article on alternative journalism platform La Mula explaining events in Tía María, Jorge Páucar pointed out the role played by the federal government:

La minera Southern Copper se queja de la falta de apoyo del Poder Ejecutivo. Sin embargo, el Ministerio de Energía y Minas aprobó el EIA (Estudio de Impacto Ambiental) y cuando Julio Morriberón dijo que Tía María se cancelaba, la ministra Rosa María Ortiz salió a defender el proyecto y a manifestar el apoyo a la actividad extractiva. Además, minimizó la protesta en Islay.

Souther Copper Corporation complains about the lack of support from the executive branch. However, the Ministry of Energy and Mines approved the EIA (environmental impact assessment) and when Julio Morriberón said that Tía María would be cancelled, the minister, Rosa María Ortiz, came out in defence of the project, demonstrating support for copper extraction. What's more, she minimized the protests in Islay.

He also called into question Southern Copper Corporation's credibility:

La empresa minera con sede en México tiene serios cuestionamientos. En enero del 2015, la Fiscalía Especializada en Materia Ambiental pidió dos años y medio de pena privativa de la libertad y el pago de una reparación civil de 1 millón de dólares para el presidente ejecutivo de Southern Perú, Óscar González Rocha por el delito de contaminación ambiental en el mar de Ilo.

En mayo del 2008, el Osinergmin multó con 608 mil nuevos soles a Southern por cometer infracción a las normas medioambientales. La empresa minera no cumplió con el Programa de Adecuación y Manejo Ambiental, superó los límites máximos permisibles y atentó contra la Ley General de Salud, Ley General del Ambiente y el Reglamento para la Protección Ambiental en la actividad minero metalúrgica.

Gracias al Mapa de Infracciones Ambientales de Convoca.pe, pudimos conocer que el Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental (OEFA) multó 14 veces a Southern Copper por un monto total de 530, 745 dólares.

The track record of the mining company, whose head office is in Mexico, raises red flags. In January 2015, the Public Prosecutor's Environmental Office requested a two-and-a-half year custodial sentence and compensation of $1 million for the president of Southern Copper Corporation Óscar González Rocha which it accused of environmental contamination in the sea of Ilo.

In May 2008, the energy and mining watchdog Osinergmin fined the company 608,000 Peruvian nuevos soles for having violated environmental standards. The mining company did not meet the requirements of the country's Environmental Compliance and Management Program, having exceeded permissible limits and contravened the Act Respecting Public Health, the Act Respecting the Environment, and the regulations governing environmental protection in mining and metallurgical processes.

Thanks to a map of environmental infractions published by Convoca, we discovered that the Organization for Environmental Evaluation and Oversight (OEFA) fined Southern Copper 14 times for a total of $530,745.

In Arequipa, the local digital daily El Buho explored the financial reasons behind the government's reluctance to cancel the project, citing congressman Víctor Andrés Belaúnde:

La huelga se produce el 23 de marzo, al día siguiente la empresa dice que no va, el gobierno corrige dice que sí va. Pasan 30 días con heridos y hasta un muerto, y la empresa emite bonos por 1,500 millones de dólares a 30 años con una taza [sic] de 5,8% para el proyecto Tía María y otros 500 millones para otros proyectos a 10 años a tazas [sic] de 3,6%. Parece que hay empresas peruanas que han comprado esos bonos […] El proyecto lo van a hacer de todas maneras. ¿Nos están engañando? ¿Nos están tomando el pelo? Que digan las cosas de manera verdadera. Yo creo que el Gobierno no nos ha dicho la verdad. El Gobierno está asustado. Va a tener que responder porque la empresa emitió bonos con la garantía del Gobierno”

The strike happened on March 23; the next day the company said it wouldn't go ahead, the government corrected this and said it would. Thirty days went by with people wounded and one man killed; and the company issued $1.5 billion worth of 30-year bonds at 5.8% for the Tía María project and another 500 million worth of 10-year paper at 3.6%. Apparently some Peruvian businesses actually bought them […] The project is going ahead regardless.  Are they putting one over on us? Are they pulling our leg? They need to come clean. I don't think the government has told us the truth. The government is scared. It is going to have to answer for the company's bonds because they are government-backed.

This may not be the only concern the Peruvian government has about stopping Tía María. El Buho quotes journalist Gerónimo Centurión who posits one more hypothesis:

Según el cable de Wikileaks del 20 de enero de este año, el gobierno de Humala, en el marco del acuerdo Trans Pacífico, aceptó que empresas extranjeras que consideran que su inversión está en peligro por protestas de origen ambiental o social (como Tía María), podrían apelar a tribunales internacionales para exigir multimillonarias reparaciones.

Esto no sólo beneficia a las empresas extranjeras frente a las nacionales, sino que les permite pasar por alto el sistema jurídico nacional ya que no requerirían agotar el sistema jurídico interno. […] Parece una ficción. Pero, empresas como la minera Doe Run, amparados en estos acuerdos ya están denunciando al Perú por millonarias sumas

According to a Wikileaks cable from January 20 of this year, the Humala government, within the framework of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, accepted a deal whereby foreign companies whose investment is jeopardized by environmental or social opposition (such as the case of Tía María) can appeal to international tribunals to demand multi-million-dollar reparations.

This not only favours foreign businesses over domestic ones but also enables them to bypass the country's laws since they don't get bogged down by the internal judicial system […] Hard to believe. But a mining company like Doe Run, protected under these international accords, is suing Peru for millions.

For more on the background to this latest mining controversy, watch the Spanish-language video “La verdad de Tía María”, which has been circulating in social media.

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