Peru protesters try to stop Southern Copper mine

[Source – Global Post]

By Miguel Zegarra

AREQUIPA, Peru (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters opposed to a mine of Southern Copper smashed windows at a training center and set a bus on fire on Monday, witnesses said in the latest conflict over natural resources in Peru.

At least a thousand police officers were also dispatched to prevent protesters from blockading a section of the Pan-American highway open near the town of Islay, 620 miles south of Lima, the capital.

After a round of strident protests by farmers earlier this year, Southern Copper said it would build a desalination plant fed by seawater to appease planters who said the $1 billion Tia Maria project would have taken their supplies of freshwater.

Mines and Energy minister Pedro Sanchez had told company earlier this year it must build a desalination plant if it wants to go ahead with the project and avoid further opposition from the community.

Since then, at least two local groups have taken different positions about the project.

“What we want as farmers is that they give us a space for dialogue,” said Gualberto Herrera, head of a community group called the Association for Sustainable Development in the Tambo Valley. “The majority is open to seeing the project go forward, but in a responsible way.”

Some farmers have asked the company build a reservoir for local planters to use.

Another group, called the Front for the Defense of the Tambo Valley, says the mine would cause pollution and accused the government of President Alan Garcia of being on the side of big mining companies.

“The problem isn’t just whether you use seawater instead of another source. The problem is the whole context of mining in our province,” said the group’s leader, Pepe Julio Gutierrez.

The project was put on hold in late April for 90 days, while the government and local communities worked on an environmental impact study.

Peru is the world’s second biggest copper miner after neighboring Chile and is frequently rattled by disputes over mining and oil projects.

Southern Copper is a unit of Grupo Mexico and one of the world’s largest copper producers.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Velez and Teresa Cespedes in Lima; Editing by Marguerita Choy)