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Protests Over Las Bambas Mine Project in Peru Claim Four Lives and Leave Many Injured

Las Bambas - Perú

Locals protest against the Las Bambas copper mine. Image from the Observatory of Mining Conflictos in Peru.

This post was originally published on the blog Globalizado by Juan Arellano. All links lead to Spanish language pages.

On September 25, residents from the provinces of Cotabambas and Grau set up a blockade to protest the Las Bambas copper mine. These protests lead to confrontations with police that, on September 29, left four people dead and many more protesters injured. By the end of the day, these events soon led the government to declare a state of emergency in the provinces of Cotabambas, Grau, Andahuaylas, and Chincheros.

In April 2014, the Las Bambas mining project was sold for almost 6 billion dollars to a consortium lead by MMG Ltd, which has external connections to the China Minmetals Corporation through the Glencore Xstrata company. Though the project has been an economic boon to the Apurímac region (the local government in Peruvian Soles is expected to collect almost 100 million dollars in mining taxes), it's also been a serious environmental concern for people living in the area.

The main objections to the project stem from a recent environmental impact study. According to some claims, the mining company illegal altered the findings of an environmental impact study. There are also reports that some officials are ignorant about many of the details included in Glencore Xstrata's mining contract.

Protesters are calling for the demolition of the molybdenum plant, the filtration plant, and the concentrate storage facility. According to an earlier proposal, these three facilities were supposed to be constructed in entirely different areas from where they're found today. Protesters are also asking that project officials of the MMG Las Bambas Mine step down due to corruption charges. (They are suspected of bribing state officials when negotiating mining contracts.)

#Apurímac: Two have been reported dead and 15 injured by the mining project. #LasBambas— RPP Noticias (@RPPNoticias) septiembre 29, 2015

The clash between protesters and police began at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, September 29, when a large group of locals began marching around the mining camp. Some demonstrators then attempted to enter the main MMG camp by force, and police responded with tear gas. This triggered violence between roughly 10,000 locals and 3,000 police officers and soldiers. It later became known that the death toll had reached four and that eight police officers had suffered injuries.

The government's response to the incident was to declare a state of emergency, and the Department of Energy and Mining of Peru released a statement saying that the changes to the environmental impact study were insignificant and were made known to local authorities at the appropriate time. Premier Pedro Cateriano stated that the Las Bambas Project would not be stopped.

#LasBambas: A state of emergency has been declared in the provinces of Apurímac and Cusco.— Diario Perú21 (@Peru21pe) septiembre 30, 2015

The following day, on September 30, the protests were suspended for 48 hours in the hopes of establishing a dialogue with the government. On October 1, government representatives in Lima and counsellors of the Catabambas province agreed to set up a discussion table, resulting in a technical support team traveling to Catabambas on Friday, October 5, followed by the Ministers of the High Level Commission on October 6.

Despite this more or less speedy outcome, the impression that the government only acts when violence breaks out remains. Writing for the blog Emancipacion, Escula Permanente says:

¿El gobierno atendió la queja de la población y la solicitud de diálogo expresada ya hace más de seis meses? No. Ante ese escenario, y agrupados en el Frente de Defensa de Cotabambas, la población optó por la protesta y la respuesta ha sido una represión de gran violencia, […] Nuevamente, se hace evidente que los sucesivos gobiernos nacionales no buscan escuchar a la población. Más aún, la ningunean. La todopoderosa inversión privada siempre se impone sobre quienes tengan la osadía de cuestionarla. Para los empresarios: protección policial incondicional. Para los que protestan luego de tanto atropello: balas de esa misma policía.

Did the government answer the people's concerns or their attempts to establish dialogue now more than six months ago? No. In light of this, grouped together at the Defence Front of Cotabambas, the people decided to protest, and the response has been one of great violence, […] Again, it is evident that federal government after federal government does not care about listening to the people. In fact, they push them aside. The all-powerful private sector is imposed upon those who have the courage to question it. For big business: unconditional police protection. For those who still protest after such abuse: bullets from those very same police.

On his blog, journalist Carlos Noreiga posted part of a phone conversation with Rodolfo Abarca, the director of the Cotabambas Defence Front:

“No somos antimineros, nosotros estamos a favor que continúe el proyecto minero Las Bambas, pero exigimos que se mantenga el proyecto original, rechazamos los cambios que no se nos consultaron y nos perjudican […] (la planta de molibdeno) va a afectar nuestro abastecimiento de agua por el agua que necesita esa planta y además va a contaminar el aire. Nosotros rechazamos ese cambio y por eso es la protesta”.

We are not anti-mining; we are all for the continuation of the Las Bambas Mining Project, but we are demanding that they keep with the project's original plan. We reject the changes for which we were not consulted, and that will cause us harm […] (the molybdenum plant) will impact our water supply due to the amount of water the plant will require and it will also pollute the air. We are firmly against these changes and this is why we are protesting.

Arguing another angle, Juan Mendoza, a guest on the blog Economia, said effectively that the blame for the whole problem sits with the anti-mining group for stirring up a misinformed public. Protesters, Mendoza says, are trying to pressure the company in pursuit of their own economic interests. He also stated that the current government's response has been very weak and proposes that a new government take over next year:

revisar el proceso de descentralización con la finalidad de evitar que el canon minero siga siendo un botín que capturar. En particular, debemos contar con un mejor diseño de instituciones y mecanismos para que un mayor número de personas se beneficien con mayor rapidez de la explotación minera. Este nuevo diseño debe buscar que las personas perciban, de forma clara, cuál es el aporte de la actividad minera al incremento de su bienestar. Sugiero, asimismo, que este diseño considere y potencie las positivas, aunque limitadas, experiencias de las contribuciones mineras voluntarias y del programa de obras por impuestos.

Revise the decentralisation process with a means to preventing the mining tax from continuing to be an irresistible source of funds. In particular, we need better institutions and mechanisms so that more people benefit more quickly from mining. This new plan must attempt to make people aware and clearly understand what mining can do to increase their well being. I also suggest that this plan consider and strengthen the positive, yet limited, experience of voluntary mining contributions and public works taxes.

The anthropologist Fabiola Yeckting, writing for the blog NoticiasSer, recalled the complete history of the mining project, concluding by saying, “One thing remains constant in the people's demands: they ask that natural resources be treated with respect, for access to water sources, and to stop pollution,” adding:

esta historia tiene algunas lecciones que se pueden enlazar con las de los otros conflictos en el país, con la falta de institucionalidad sobre la gestión de los recursos, la flexibilización en el cumplimiento de los procedimientos, ya su vez, con los diferentes momentos en los que se posterga la toma de decisiones de las poblaciones afectadas por los proyectos, que se organizan para protestar. […] La promesa de este gobierno, largamente postergada para Cotabambas, de darle la potestad de gobernar sobre sus territorios después de años de haber sido olvidados,debe cumplirse.

There are lessons in this story that share a connection with lessons in other conflicts around the country. With a lack of institutional framework on resource management, flexibility in compliance procedures, and when the decision making of people, affected by projects, is delayed, people come together and protest. […] The long overdue promise, made by this government, to give the people of Cotabambas the power to govern their own lands after years of being forgotten must the honoured.

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