On May 22, Peruvian Premier Pedro Cateriano declared a state of emergency in Islay province, southern Peru, in response to ongoing violent protests against Southern Copper’s $1.4 billion Tia Maria copper project. At the time of the government announcement, more than 1,000 army troops and 4,000 police officers were deployed in the region of the project, where at least three protestors and one police officer had died in clashes. The state of emergency was to last at least 60 days and included suspension of some civil liberties, including the inviolability of homes, freedom of movement, and freedom of assembly.
Several days prior to the declaration of the state of emergency, Southern Copper had announced that it was suspending development of the project for 60 days as a result of weeks of violent protests that began in late March. A Wall Street Journal article dated May 15 quoted a public letter from Southern Copper CEO Oscar Gonzalez Rocha, saying, “A company that supports development and is socially responsible can’t be indifferent to the reality that directly affects the area where one of its projects is located.” He said the company was open to permitting residents to “present their worries and fears, to identify solutions, agree on a path and define the responsibilities that each one should assume.”
Protestors want the project canceled, fearing that it will pollute water supplies to the region’s farms. Protests had spread as far as the city of Arequipa, 60 miles from the project site.
Southern Copper received final approval of the Tia Maria Environmental Impact Assessment on August 1, 2014. The company said the project will not affect the region’s water supplies or cause pollution, with desalinated water from the Pacific to be pumped to the mine.
The Tia Maria project is designed to produce 120,000 mt/y of copper cathodes over a 20-year mine life and, based on current scheduling, is due for completion in the first half of 2017.
Southern Copper is a majority-owned, indirect subsidiary of Grupo Mexico and has large operations in Peru and Mexico. In Peru, the company operates the Toquepala and Cuajone mines in the Andes mountains, approximately 860 km southeast of Lima and a smelter and refinery in the coastal city of Ilo. In Mexico, its operations include the Cananea and La Caridad open-pit copper mines, a large metallurgical complex at La Caridad, and several underground silver and zinc mines.