Farmers from the Tambo Valley in Arequipa have begun protest marches again to reject the government’s continued support of the Tia Maria copper project above the Tambo River basin.
The renewal of the protests follows statements by the minister of Energy and Mines, Rosa Maria Ortiz, on the government’s optimism in renewing talks with leaders in the province of Islay.
Three farmers and one policeman died in the protests earlier this year, and a 60-day state of emergency was imposed on May 22 to curb the violent clashes between protestors and the police.
The state of emergency expired two weeks ago. The government chose not to renew the state of emergency as a sign of good faith but a military contingent has remained in Islay to back the police.
The government is returning to the negotiation table with Islay leaders in a couple of weeks, headed by the ministers of Agriculture, Environment and Energy and Mines. President Humala is also expected to visit the area later in the month.
“I think that with good dialogue we can produce good news,” Ortiz said.
The marches this week have begun peacefully and have not been blocked by the police, who will only intervene if the protesters begin to destroy property, according to the Arequipa region’s police chief, Gen. Enrique Blanco.
The mayor of Punta de Bombon, Jose Ramos, said the people in the area feel pressured.
“You can’t force a population to accept a project they don’t want,” Ramos said.
People have protested the government’s intervention in blocking municipal government bank accounts and arresting several mayors and leaders, but at the same time the Comptroller General’s office accused some leaders of using public funds to finance the protests, while two key protest leaders were also reported to have demanded large sums of money from Southern Copper in exchange for shutting down the protests.
The $1.2 billion open-pit copper project owned by Mexico’s Southern Copper, which also operates Cuajone and Toquepala in southern Peru, has been in the development stage for several years, and protests have resulted in five deaths and serious injuries.
In 2009, the United Nations project services office, UNOPS, made 138 observations to the initial Environmental Impact study, EIA. The government also made over 70 observations in the new EIA, and late in 2014 stated that these observations had been resolved. However, despite suggestions by many political analysts to build trust in the population, the government has said it will not seek an external opinion on this second EIA.
Originally the concerns were over its impact on the water supply. In response, Southern Copper said it would desalinate water from the Pacific Ocean for its operation. However, residents remain steadfast in their opposition over other issues, including air and soil contamination of farmer’s crops.