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What You Need to Know About Growing Opposition to Peru's Tia Maria Mining Project (Part II)

Image of one of many manifestations against Tia Maria mining project in Perú strongly watched by peruvian forces of order. Photo taken from the site of peruvian politician Rosa Maria Palacios.

One of the many demonstrations against the Tia Maria mining project in Perú, closely watched by Peruvian law enforcement. Photo taken from the website of Peruvian politician Rosa Maria Palacios.

This post is part of a series on the Tia Maria mining project in Peru. See also: What you need to know about the growing opposition to Peru's Tia Maria mining project (Part I). 

The protests by farmers against the government-approved Tia Maria mining project in Peru have already taken five lives in more than 60 days of regional strikes. On May 23 the state proclaimed a state of emergency for Islay province, in the south of the country. Farmers fear the project will contaminate the River Tambo vital for their rice crops.

While violence has been shared out across both sides, supporters of the mining project have capitalised on the anarchy resulting from the protests, labelling protesters “anti-mining terrorists“. The use of the term “terrorist” strikes a chord with a public that still remembers Peru's time of terrorism, when rebel groups such as the Shining Path attacked government targets as well as commercial projects seeking to fulfil political goals.

Tia María Protestas

Demonstrators protest against the Southern mining company in Arequipa, Peru. Image obtained from congress member Manuel Dammert's web site, used under Creative Commons.

As Peruvian congress memeber Verónika Mendozapoints out on her blog, such terms are counterproductive in setting up genuine dialogue around the project:

“si esos que protestan son ‘terroristas’ entonces poco valen sus vidas, menos sus opiniones”, ese parece ser el mensaje final. “Escalamos” así de la desciudadanización [sic] a la deshumanización del otro. Quienes han hecho uso de estos términos públicamente saben muy bien de todas estas implicancias. Por eso resulta preocupante que desde el Estado, supuesto garante neutral de derechos, no se haya deslindado o exigido rectificación como correspondía sino más bien se haya refrendado tácitamente.

If those who protest are ‘terrorists’ then their lives have little value, let alone their opinions. That seems to be the final message.”We climb” from the uncivilized through the dehumanization of others. Those who publicly use these  terms know full well what they imply. That's why it is worrying that the State, supposedly a neutral guarantor of rights […] has not demanded rectification as befitted, but rather has tactically endorsed [labelling].

Digital publication Lampadia disagrees. They claim that many of the demonstrators’ protest actions instill terror into the local population, justifying the terrorism classification.

Moreover, the publication argues, the protests have become part of an “Anti-mining manual” applied across various parts of the country:

El proceso para detener un proyecto minero es siempre el mismo: miente; búscate un publicista, juega con la ignorancia de la población, a la que nadie explica las cosas; juega con sus miedos y sentimientos; amenaza; demuestra tu poder haciendo daños físicos a determinadas personas; organiza marchas; toma carreteras; destruye la propiedad pública y privada y trata de conseguir la muerte de un inocente para “demostrar la brutalidad” de la represión.

The process to stop a mining project is always the same: lie, look for a publicist, play on the ignorance of the population, to whom no one explains anything, play on their fears and feelings; threaten; show your power by physically damaging certain people; organize marches; block roads; destroy public and private property and try to use the death of an innocent to “prove the cruelty” of the repression.

But the protesters’ credibility was damaged by a more concrete allegation. On April 26 an audio recording appeared in which the leader of the Front for the Defense of the Tambo Valley, Pepe Julio Gutiérrez, apparently demanded money to put a stop to the demonstrations.

Gutiérrez denied it was his voice, claiming a plot against him, but was detained for 24 hours on May 15, a detention later extended to seven days. Four days later the prosecution said they had received confirmation that the voice of the audio was indeed that of Gutiérrez.

Critics of the company, including former priest Marco Arana who leads the political group Tierra y Libertad (Land and Freedom), say the Southern Copper Corporation should also be investigated as part of the corruption case, noting that wherever there is a “corrupted”, there is always a “corruptor”.

Also on May 15 the government belatedly announced that Peru's president Ollanta Humala would address the nation on Tia Maria, but the appearance of the president on TV was delayed for several hours, triggering jokes and memes.

Finally Humala moved to reject calls to suspend the project, leaving the decision with the Southern Copper Corporation, who chose to stop work for 60 days in order to “socialize the project and clear all doubts”.

Protestors were not completely convinced, however and the same day a peaceful march turned into a confrontation with police in Cocachacra, Arequipa. A video spread by the Facebook Revolution News page shows police fired at the protestors. Interior minister, José Luis Pérez Guadalupe said police officials are allowed to “make use of arms if necessary”, adding that the shooting justified itself as a policeman being beaten by the protesters was subsequently released.

On May 22, new confrontations in Cocachacra ended with a protestor dead and the local police station attacked with a firecracker, supposedly thrown by demonstrators angered by the the death of their colleague (although some say it was the police themselves who detonated the firecracker), triggering the declaration of an emergency situation in the region that is still in effect.

Soon after the declaration police began arresting citizens for allegedly extorting money from drivers passing through the area, as well as the huaraqueros or espartambos; people that pelt stones at police during confrontations with the help of the huaracas, a local sling.

The Farmers Federation of Arequipa region then announced that they would come out to march in protest and support the strike of the Islay province farmers on May 27 and 28. The march also involved solidarity walkouts by unions and housing associations across several regions in the country. While mostly peaceful, there were incidents of  tire-burning, as police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters from strategic objects including airports and bridges.

Some believe the Southern Copper Corporation has not stopped work at all and the blog Servindi published by the weekly Hilderbrandt shows why it does not make sense for them to do so:

Según un reporte de la propia empresa, de los 5.787 millones de dólares recaudados el año pasado por Southern, 2.482 millones fueron producto de sus operaciones en el Perú.
La ganancia obtenida en suelo nacional tiene su explicación en la cantidad de mineral concentrado que se encuentra en las rocas.
En Cuajone y Toquepala la concentración es de 0.68%, mientras que en el yacimiento mexicano de Buenavista, la mina más importante que tiene el Grupo México -dueño de Southern-, la concentración es de 0.58% …
además, la diferencia en los volúmenes de producción. Mientras que el año pasado en México la empresa produjo 568 millones de libras de cobre, en el Perú este volumen llegó a los 670 millones.

According to a company report, of the 5.787 million dollars raised last year by Southern, 2.482 million were the result of their operations in Peru.
The proceeds can be explained by the concentration of mineral found in the rocks.
In Cuajone and Toquepala [in Peru] the concentration is 0.68%, while in the Mexican deposit of Buenavista, the most important mine of Grupo Mexico — owner of Southern — the concentration is 0.58%…
Moreover, there is a difference in the volume of production. While last year in Mexico the company produced 568 million pounds of cooper, in Peru this volume reached 670 million pounds.

Another thorny matter connected to Tia Maria is the 2014 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) contracted to Geoservice Ingeniería, which critics say is inadequate. Convoca, an investigative journalism team, analyzed the 10,000 plus pages of the EIA with the help of environmental engineers and found “serious inconsistencies in water management and monitoring of impacts”:

Southern presentó el nuevo EIA incluyendo apenas diez carillas para explicar cómo se construiría la planta desalinizadora para tratar el agua de mar y no captar agua del río Tambo, del que dependen los pobladores de la zona. Los ingenieros entrevistados señalaron que una planta de esta dimensión, que además es el tema más sensible del conflicto, requiere que la empresa presente como parte de los anexos del EIA, un Estudio de Factibilidad que especifique cómo se procesará el agua de mar. Este documento es clave para que los evaluadores del ministerio determinen que la planta tendrá la capacidad para procesar el mineral que se explotará sin que luego la minera use al agua del río.

Southern introduced the new EIA including barely ten lines to explain how the desalination plant would be built to treat seawater in order not to extract water from the Tambo River, upon which the residents of the area depend. The engineers interviewed pointed out that a plant of such dimensions requires the company to include in the annexes a Viability Study specifying how the seawater will be processed. This document is key for the ministry assessors to determine the capacity of the plant to process minerals without using water from the river.

Further reading on the subject :
Are Peruvian Police and Press Conspiring to Criminalise the Tia María Protests?

This post is a version of the original post first published in spanish in the Globalizado blog.

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