Tia Maria: Gov’t Declares State of Emergency in Islay, Arequipa

Cateriano and Islay statement ministersPremier 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.

Islay protests 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.

Islay-Cocachacra farmers peacful marchEnvironmentalists have been encouraging the government again to allow the new study to be reviewed by UNOPS, and calm or solve any fears the farmers may have.

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.

Tia Maria - map of areaViolence 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.




  1. Joe Normal says:

    Let’s see……the “farmers” and “locals”….who have been ‘protesting’…..violently….throwing rocks, and sometimes shooting at Police…..could be ‘called-off’ by their leader…IF….he got paid a million and a half dollars.

    SO, if this is a “spontaneous demonstration of the Farmers’ Anger”…HOW would that have been possible?

    IF, on the other hand, the Marxist/Maoists who are in charge are just there to stir up problems and cause violence, as they normally are….to disrupt society, block commerce by blocking the Panamerican Highway…and disrupt the country’s economy…..to make MONEY for ‘their cause’….then the government’s Intelligence Services should KNOW who these people are. They should be arrested and charged with the crimes they have committed, and sent to be with their friend and leader Abimael Guzman……until trial.

    After that, lengthy terms in Peru’s beautiful Prisons should be awarded for their actions in murdering and injuring Police Officers…and contributing to the deaths and injury of some of the “protesters”….whom, I’m sure, are quite pleased at having been injured for the “Revolution”.

    The damage caused to the economy, and other “farmers” in other areas, by blocking the Highway….cannot be calculated. Neither, can the impact upon the Mining Industry, the same industry that has made possible Peru’s soaring economy and social development, be calculated.

    These “demonstrators” are…in plain language, Organized TERRORISTS, and should he treated as such.

  2. Jason W. Smith says:

    The US Embassy and its spokespeople like Mr. Normal cannot accept the fact that they have lost control of Peru thanks to President Humala. Slandering workers and farmers is so cliché as to be ridiculous and hardly necessitates a response. For the true story of this gang of interlopers go to my website the ABC’s of Communism at You Tube and type select the lectures on Peru

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