Ombudsman’s Office Calls For Dialogue Amid Mine Protests

Peru’s ombudsman’s office, the Defensoria del Pueblo, said that if violence does not halt in the southern Cusco region’s Espinar province against a mining operation it will be difficult to hold talks.

Silvio Campana, the Defensoria del Pueblo’s representative in Cusco, said during an interview with Ideeleradio that members of the Espinar Defense Front need to suspend their protests against mining company Xstrata’s Tintaya copper mine.

“The acts of violence like the ones yesterday [Thursday] night, where nine people were injured, including the mayor of Espinar, continue, which has complicated the situation in the area very quickly,” Campana said on Friday. “It is going to be very difficult to try to establish dialogue.”

“At the moment, the first plea is for the population of Espinar to provide the conditions for dialogue,” Campana added.

Residents in Espinar started protests at the beginning of this week against Xstrata’s operations of the Tintaya-Antipaccay mine. Protesters say the mine has polluted the Salado and Cañipía rivers and want the company to increase its contribution to a local development fund to 30 percent of its operating profit from the current contribution of 3 percent.

The company has said it is open to holding talks with the protesters, Campana said.

Campana of the Ombudsman’s office, however, says that the recent environmental impact study by Digesa, of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, does not specifically point to Xstrata as the polluter of the rivers.

“Remember that there is also a problem of illegal and informal mining in the Espinar and Chumbivilcas areas,” Campana said in the Ideeleradio interview. 

“The lack of funds [received by the province] is just a pretext,” said Fernando Ruiz-Caro of Cusco’s Chamber of Commerce, who believes the strike is politically motivated. 

According to the Ministry of Economy and the Cusco Chamber of Commerce, Espinar receives the second highest income in mining taxes in the Cusco region after La Convención. In 2011, it received S/.156 million from mining taxes, mining canons and similar sources but barely spent 45% of that income.  For 2012, the Ministry says, its budget is S/.269 million, which includes the unspent balance from last year.

The Tintaya copper mine has been in operation since 1985. It was acquired by Xstrata in 2006 from the Australian company BHP Billiton, which in turn had acquired the mine in 1996 from Magma Copper.   BHP Billiton sold the mine when protesters destroyed its mining camp. 

Despite the strike in the province, the Tintaya mine continues operating but it has had to hold its mineral stocks while the roads are blocked by protesters, preventing shipments to the port of Matarani.

A number of mining operations and projects in Peru have been impacted by protests, including those owned by Newmont Mining and Anglo American.

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