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  • Peruvian government authorized Southern Copper Corp’s mining project.

    Peruvian government authorized Southern Copper Corp’s mining project. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 July 2019
Opinion

"If the construction project does not have the population’s favor, it will not be able to be executed, even with a construction license."

The right-wing Peruvian government has authorized United States (U.S.) firm Southern Copper to begin the major open-pit mining construction project "Tia Maria" before the environmental permit runs out, despite strong social resistance by environmental groups and local residents. 

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“The government has finally decided to grant the construction license” reported the newspaper Gestion, citing government sources, after government officials met on Monday with the company's representatives. 

Southern Copper sent a letter on July 5 to the Minister of Energy and Mines, Francisco Ismodes, stating that "the social context is not the best one to implement the project", but promises not to begin the US$1.4 billion project until the conditions improve.

"We will not begin the construction without setting up spaces for a dialogue, to provide the answers required by the population” the president of Southern-Peru, Oscar Gonzalez Rocha, said, adding the company’s regrets for past situations that caused “discomfort” within the population, referring to the facts that the company evaded environmental safety requirements, and attempted to bribe a social leader to eliminate the opposition.

The copper mining project has been categorically rejected by farmers of the central region of Tambo and by the mayors of the Islay province in the south of the country, amid fears for the consequences that open-pit mining will have on agriculture and more generally on the environment.

The release of chemical substances such as cyanide, nitrogen oxide, and sulfur dioxide, can cause great changes in the environment of the region destroying forests and polluting water sources,  key to agriculture in the region. Sound pollution resulting from mining operations can also affect the population and wildlife. 

Energy expert Aurelio Ochoa pointed out that the company's background affects its credibility and added that in case it does not have the population’s consent, it will not be able to execute the project, even with a construction license.

We reject the government's attempt to grant Tia Maria's construction license, threatening agriculture, health and the environment. We need big projects that serve the majority and not just some business groups.
 

The construction license had to be approved this month before the company’s environmental permit expires. If it does the company would have to ask for another permit, restarting the complicated and long approval process, meaning another waiting period of several months until the government reviews a new environmental impact study.

Last week, the mayors of Islay and the farmers of the Tambo Valley refused to talk with Peru's prime minister, Salvador del Solar and demanded to meet with the President of the country, Martin Vizcarra 

They also warned to go on an indefinite strike if the construction permit is granted. In 2011, repression against protests caused several deaths.

On the other hand, the political coalition of left-wing parties, the Broad Front (Frente Amplio) said that the country's Energy and Mining Minister met with Southern's representative offering him the permit, despite the latter’s letter proposing to first discuss issues with the opponents to the project.

The company has spent years waiting for the construction license that past governments refused to give after the deadly protests that first derailed the project eight years ago. The mine is expected to produce 120,000 tons of high-grade copper per year for 18 years. 

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