LatinNews Daily - 21 April 2022

PERU: State of emergency in response to mining protests

On 20 April, Peru’s President Pedro Castillo declared a 60-day state of emergency in Mariscal Nieto province in the southern Moquegua region, in response to protests that forced the suspension of operations at the Cuajone copper mine.

Analysis:

The state of emergency comes after operations at Cuajone have been suspended for nearly two months due to residents’ blockading of water deliveries to the mine. The government’s showdown with protesters will present a difficult test for Castillo, who won office with massive support from citizens in Peru’s mining regions, promising to ensure that mining companies fulfil their “social responsibilities” to communities. Yet Castillo’s natural sympathies with protesters have arguably encouraged the intensification of mining conflicts, prompting criticism from Peru’s main extractive lobby, Sociedad Nacional de Minería, Petróleo y Energía (SNMPE), that the government is failing to support the crucial mining sector.

  • The Cuajone mine, which is owned by the Mexico-headquartered Southern Copper Corporation (SCC), has not operated since 28 February after residents cut off its water supply to demand increased financial benefits from SCC. The dispute has become increasingly heated, with workers from Cuajone issuing a statement on 13 April to warn that they will “release the water with our own hands” if operations cannot recommence.
  • Residents from the hamlets of Tumilaca, Pocata, Coscore, and Tala claim that SSC has usurped their land, and are demanding US$5bn in compensation and for SSC to permanently cover 5% of the communities’ utility bills.
  • Labour Minister Betssy Chávez said yesterday that the state of emergency will restore the “principle of authority” in Mariscal Nieto, with police and military set to be deployed to the area. She added that the blocking of water delivery is affecting around 5,000 people who live within the mining area, including families of mine workers, and that this has taken a hospital “to the brink of collapse”.
  • Prime Minister Aníbal Torres yesterday indicated that the government had run out of patience with protesters, after two days of meetings between cabinet representatives and local communities on 10 and 12 April failed to yield a breakthrough. “US$5bn is an inconceivable figure. That’s led us to declare the state of emergency, and this problem has to be solved now,” Torres said.
  • On 19 April SSC’s local partner, Southern Perú, announced that it has suspended plans to expand Cuajone which would have entailed an investment of around US$850m. Southern Perú’s vice president of finances, Raúl Jacob, who is also president of the SNMPE, explained that the suspension of operations had cost the company around US$255m in lost exports over the past seven weeks.  
  • Conflicts have also surged at other key mines in Peru in the past week. On 19 April the Las Bambas copper mine (Apurímac region), which produces approximately 2% of global copper supply, suspended its operations due to “safety concerns”, according to a statement from its owner, China’s MMG. Jacob said that around 130 people from the local community of Fuerabamba “invaded” the mine on 14 April accusing MMG of neglecting its social obligations to residents. Las Bambas has been the site of on-and-off protests, which have sometimes forced its closure for weeks at a time, since 2016.

Looking Ahead: The halting of operations at Cuajone and Las Bambas means that around a fifth of Peruvian copper supply is now suspended. In a sign of possible protest contagion, residents living near the Glencore-operated Antapaccay copper mine (Cusco) are also threatening protests against that mine’s planned expansion.

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