Peru: La Oroya protests turn deadly

Workers at La Oroya on Aug. 13 lifted an "indefinite strike" declared two days earlier, and relaxed their blockades of the highway through central Peru's Junín region. The first day of the strike saw one worker killed by a bullet to the chest and some 60 others injured in clashes with the National Police. The decision to "suspend" the strike was taken after union representatives met in Lima with officials from the Environment and Labor ministries, and National Office of Dialogue and Sustainability (ONDS), a new body established to address social conflicts. Officials promised union leaders to try find a way to keep the troubled Oroya Metallurgical Complex open. But deadlines are looming: the workers say they will resume their strike if a solution is not found within eight days. Meanwhile, creditors of complex owner Doe Run say if there are no bidders for the smelters and associated Cobriza mine by Aug. 27, the company will go into liquidation. Peru's government rejected worker demands to ease the legal limit on sulfur dioxide emissions for the complex to allow it to re-open.

Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal emphasized that allowing lower standards for a future operator would open the Peruvian state to $500 million in damages in a lawsuit brought by Doe Run's parent company Renco Group. Luis Castillo, head of the Oroya local of the CGTP trade union federation, continues to demand that the new operators be given 14 years to bring the complex into compliance. (Peru Reports, Peruvian Times, La Republica, UPI, Aug. 13; El Comercio, Aug. 11)

A 2012 agreement to have Citibank oversee a public liquidation of Doe Run's assets was scotched when Citibank wanted to sell the units of La Oroya and Cobriza separately. Investment bank UBS was then brought in to conduct the liquidation, but protesters are now demanding that it be changed as well. Renco Group is meanwhile pursuing an international arbitration claim against Peru on the basis that the government violated terms of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement by closing the complex. (Peruvian Times, Aug. 11, 2015; MineWeb, Nov. 14, 2012; FT, Oct. 29, 2012)