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Residents have been protesting for 11 days against government approval to initiate construction of the major open-pit mining project known as ‘Tia Maria'.
Peru's President Martin Vizcarra announced Wednesday night that the license required to initiate the Southern Copper mine project in the Tambo Valley in the nation's southern region of Arequipa, was sent back for review as a result of the popular pressure and recent riots against the project.
Vizcarra made the announcement after meeting in Arequipa with the mayors of southern districts of Peru who oppose the mining project and demand the license to dig be canceled.
"A revision process will be implemented with the documentation available, carried out by the Ministry of Energy and Mines for evaluation before it makes a decision," said the president during a press conference. Vizcarra said that the evaluation should take place next week. A final resolution date wasn't given.
Raul Jacobs, a spokesperson for Southern Copper, based in the United States, said that the company was hoping to begin copper excavation by 2022.
On Wednesday, riot police tear-gassed residents protesting against the open-pit project in order to evacuate the highway they were blocking.
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 of negative effects on agriculture there, which exports large quantities of its fruits and vegetables. Citizens more generally are worried of the environmental damage the mine will create.
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.
According to energy sector experts, the construction license had to be approved this month before the company’s environmental permit expires. If that happens company would have to ask for another permit, restarting a complicated and long approval process, meaning another waiting period of several months, or years, until the government reviews a new environmental impact study.
The corporation 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, with an investment of US$ 1.4 billion.
Peru is the second-largest producer of copper in the world and its mining industry makes up 60 percent of its exports.