Peru: General strike hits huge Tia Maria mining project

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Photo: TeleSUR/Rael Mora.

A three-day general strike against the Tia Maria mining project of transnational Southern Copper Corporation in the southern region of Arequipa in Peru was launched on May 12.

The controversial project is planned to take place in the fertile Tambo Valley in the province of Islay in the western parts of the region. The transnational company is the third-largest copper producer in the world. The strike came after more than 50 days of continuous protest against the mining project.

On May 12, protests against the project were marked by violent clashes between demonstrators and police, leaving at least two more civilians dead. The general strike led to the closing of schools and businesses in the area. Roads leading into and out of the regional capital city of Arequipa were also blocked by protesters, as were other major roads in the region.

On May 9, the government sent 4000 police officers plus extra military forces to the region, but fell short of declaring a state of emergency. The army is scheduled to remain in the area until June 7 to patrol bridges, tunnels, and petrol stations.

University students in the capital of Arequipa joined the strike. One student, Pedro Marquez, explained why they distrust Southern Copper Corporation: The students are conscious that the only thing the mining company wants is to take away the resources of our country.

“[The company] does not care if, in the process, it destroys a valley. It doesn't care if it destroys the agriculture, and it doesn't care if it trounces the lives of those in the province of Islay.

“That is why we are here protesting so that there are no more deaths.”

Congressperson Justiniano Apaza, a representative from Arequipa, visited the area twice ahead in the days before the general strikes to assess the events. He said the track record of the company, responsible for contaminating other regions such as Ilo, Moquegua and Tacna, had convinced the great majority of locals that the project should not continue.

Apaza said the mistrust of the people extends to President Ollanta Humala, who changed his stance on the project after elections were held. He accused the state of “acting as the negotiator for Southern [Copper]. Southern no longer shows its face and has disappeared from the scene.”

Apaza said the government, instead of advocating for the transnational company, should “be the guarantor … which ensures the health of its people. Because the people have chosen the government so that it can defend and represent them.”

The congressperson also denounced the freezing of the bank accounts belonging to the municipalities of Punta de Bombon, Dean Valdivia and Cocachacra, all in Islay. The government is trying to stop the mayors of these towns from accessing funds, citing the possibility they might use this money to finance the protests.

Apaza said the move was instead a bid to put more pressure on the people of Islay to accept the mining project and undermines “the autonomy of local authorities”.

With the government set to push the project forward in the face of popular anger, violent confrontations are expected to continue.

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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