Premier Pedro Cateriano has declared a state of emergency in the province of Islay, Arequipa, following continuing violence in the protests against the Tia Maria copper project that led yesterday to one more death and seven people seriously injured, including three police.
The announcement was made late Friday night from the Premier’s Office in the government palace, with Cateriano flanked by the ministers of Justice, Gustavo Adrianzen, Defense, Jakke Valakivi, and Interior, Jose Luis Perez.
Hours prior to the announcement, some 400 protestors had attempted to block the South Pan American Highway near Pampa Blanca, where a protestor, Ramon Colque, 55, died from head injuries from a rock, according to the Ministry of the Interior. At the same time, other protestors attacked a police station in Cocachacra with rocks and also dynamite, injuring three police.
There have been five deaths and dozens injured, many seriously, since protests and strikes began 62 days ago in the Tambo Valley.
Farmers in the Tambo Valley have been against the $1.4 billion Tia Maria copper project being developed by Southern Copper, which owns the Toquepala and Cuajone copper mines further south in Moquegua and Tacna, and the Ilo refinery on the coast.
The farmers fear the open pit mine, just 4 km away in the mountains above the valley, will contaminate not only their water , and limit the quantity, but also contaminate the air over the valley from the minerals crushing plant. The coastal town of Ilo, where the company’s smelter refines minerals from Toquepala and Cuajone, has serious pollution problems.
The Tambo Valley farmers rejected the project in 2009, when a United Nations study made some 138 observations to the Environmental Impact Study that was presented by Southern Copper and approved by the government. Then in late 2014 a new EIA study was presented by Southern Copper, and accepted by the government.
Despite the Government’s efforts to sit down with farmers and mayors in the area to talk about the issues, the tension has never abated and little has been achieved. Environmentalists and even the national mining and petroleum society, SNMP, have called for the project to be suspended for much longer than an initially proposed 60 days. A local spokesman for Southern Copper said the project would be postponed until 2017, but the company has since retracted that statement.
Initial protest marches were obviously led by the farmers themselves, and many of the marches still are, but the political harvesting from this situation has attracted not only corruption but the use of violent groups from outside the area.
Violence increased when an environmental lawyer contracted by Southern Copper disclosed conversations he recorded with the head of the Tambo Valley defense front, Pepe Julio Gutierrez, who was negotiating a pay-off — “if we reach an agreement, the lentils are to be paid in cash,” Gutierrez said.
“And then don’t tell me later that there is no money. Hell, then I’ll burn Troy,” Gutierrez warned.
Gutierrez is reported to have been asking for around $1.5 million.
Gutierrez has been detained and the prosecutor has ordered nine months’ imprisonment, pending investigations. Gutierrez has also been expelled from Tierra y Libertad, the political party that has defended the farmers and is a key supporter of the farmers’ rights in Cajamarca against the Newmont-Buenaventura Conga gold mine.
A state of emergency —which is for 60 days but can be extended if necessary —restricts constitutional rights such as the right to social or political gatherings, unrestricted transit within the territory, and the need for court orders or search warrants to arrest people and search their homes.
The police will continue in charge of maintaining order, with the military to act as a back-up and usually posted to the highways and and public buildings.
UPDATE: According to the Arequipa online daily El Buho, Southern Copper’s CEO, Oscar Gonzalez Rocha, flew in from Mexico on Thursday this week to testify at the Organized Crime Unit of the Prosecutor’s Office, where he confirmed that he knew of Gutierrez’ request for $.15 million to stop the protests and strikes against the Tia Maria mine. He said he had spoken to Gutierrez in the Hotel Libertador in April this year, when Gutierrez made the request. Gonzalez Rocha said he had turned down the proposal.
TO READ MORE………..