Peru: labor, campesino unrest plagues mineral sector

Ex-president Alejandro Toledo, a front-runner in Peru’s presidential race, said Jan. 13 that the mining sector must “give back” a portion of rising profits to poor rural areas. In a speech outlining his policy proposals, Toledo called for “co-responsibility” between private companies and the state for social development: “Just as we respect the rules of the game and assure them contracts will be honored, they, the extractive sector, should respect the environment and give back part of their profits in the form of infrastructure and improve the quality of life of townspeople.” (Reuters, Jan. 13)

Toldeo’s populist play comes amid growing unrest in Peru’s Andean mineral zones. The day after his speech, multinational Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. narrowly avoided a strike at the Cerro Verde copper mine (Arequipa region) after reaching an 11th-hour labor accord that pledges fully paid overtime, improved training and better health insurance. A work stoppage was imminent at the third largest copper mine in the nation. (AZ Mining, Jan. 16; Bloomberg, Jan. 14)

December saw an extended paro (regional strike) by campesinos and townspeople in north-central Áncash region over plans by local mineral company Chancadora Centauro to explore in mountainous Recuay municipality. Indigenous Quechua peasants, fearing the contamination of their sacred Laguna Conococha, blocked roads through the region. Dec. 10 saw street fighting in the regional capital, Huaraz, between protesters and police. The paro was called off after the government appointed a High-Level Commission to hear local grievances in Recuay. But Chancadora Centauro says it still intends ot go ahead with the exploration. (Diario Ya, Áncash, Dec. 22; El Comercio, Lima, Dec. 20; El Comercio, Dec. 11; Huaraz Noticias, Dec. 10)

Peru is the world’s second largest copper-producing nation, after Chile—where the industry faces similar troubles. Chile is currently having trouble with labor and shipping at its Collahuasi mine, which holds the third largest copper deposit in the world—and declared a state of force majeure on Dec. 20. (AZ Mining, Jan. 16; Mining Weekly, Jan. 10)

See our last posts on Peru and the mineral cartel in Latin America

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