Last week, the Southern Copper mining company announced a temporary halt to a huge mine development project in Peru after nearly two months of protests that have become increasingly violent.
The $1.4 billion copper mine project, Tia Maria, is slated to be developed in Arequipa state in southern Peru. The project was originally suspended in 2011 due to protests and then approved last year following an environmental impact review.
Protests began anew in March and have so far claimed three lives — a 61-year old activist in April, and a 35-year old protester and one police officer earlier this month. In addition, nearly 200 people have been injured, including both police officers and civilians. Following the deaths of the second protester and the police officer, the government sent in national troops to restore order.
Tia Maria is not the first mining project in Peru to be delayed due to protests. In 2011, US company Newmont halted construction of a $4.8 billion gold mine in northern Peru following protests. Peru’s deputy environment minister at the time, Jose De Echave, even resigned, calling the environmental impact studies “weak, outdated and lacking in credibility.”
Protesters against Tia Maria argue that it will destroy the land and contaminate the water that farmers in the mostly rural area rely on, and there is evidence to suggest that they may be right. Last year, Chinese copper mine, Chinalco Mining, shut down operations of its Toromocho copper mine after the environmental regulator found that it was contaminating two lakes. And a study by Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project last year found that indigenous children living in Peru’s southeastern Amazon region have mercury concentrations more than double the safe limit, likely due to the thousands of illegal gold mines in the region.
Mining makes up a huge portion of Peru’s economy, and the country is the third largest producer of copper. According to a 2013 investment report by German consulting firm PwC, Peru is among the top ten mineral producing countries, with an estimated production value of $27 billion. Between 2003 and 2012, investment in mining grew by more than 2,700 percent and mining makes up nearly 15 percent of Peru’s GDP.