What is Peru’s biggest environmental conflict right now?

Source: The Guardian Unlimited

José de Echave, from Lima-based NGO CooperAccion, talks about the proposed Tia Maria copper mine.

US company Newmont’s proposed Conga gold mine, perhaps, or the 40-odd year old oil concession that has devastated parts of Peru’s Amazon and is now up for renewal? The Chadin 2 dam on the River Maranon, scheduled to be built by Brazilian firm Odebrecht, or the expansion of the Camisea gas project? New legislation? Gold-mining in the Madre de Dios department? A trans-continental railway possibly financed by China?

None of the above. The answer, no about about it, is a proposed copper mine called Tia Maria in the Arequipa department in Peru’s south. Tia Maria has been one of the country’s main news stories over the last couple of months, with local people protesting, a “State of Emergency” declared, 1000s of police and soldiers sent to the region, constitutional rights suspended, open fighting, more than 200 people injured, arbitrary arrests, journalists intimidated, accusations of “terrorism” flying around, reported sabotage, and to date, following previous protests in 2011, a total of seven deaths. The struggle has galvanised many in Peru, with solidarity protests being held around the country and more than 1,000 people marching in Lima, which led to further fighting, injuries and arrests.

The company behind Tia Maria is Southern Copper, part of the Grupo Mexico, whose president, German Larrea Mota-Velasco, is ranked by Forbes as the world’s 77th richest person. How can things at Tia Maria – which president Ollanta Humala has said can’t be suspended, although Southern subsequently announced a “pause” – have turned out so badly? Here I interview José de Echave, from Lima-based NGO CooperAccion, about what has been going on.

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