Peru: stand-off continues at Las Bambas mine

The mammoth Chinese-owned copper mine at Las Bambas, in Peru's Apurímac region, was prepared to halt operations as protesters blocked roads last month, but the blockades were relaxed after Vice President Martin Vizcarra flew in from Lima to meet with local leaders Oct. 22. Vizcarra pledged a review of community grievances over environmental impacts and recompense to localities for use of roads. Two days earlier, the body of Quintino Cereceda, a protester killed by police Oct. 14, was buried at his community of Choqquecca, signaling a de-escalation of the stand-off. Residents had pledged not to bury the body or turn it over to authorities until President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski came to meet with them. The Interior Ministry acknowledged that Cereceda had been killed by National Police fire.

But four communities in Cotabambas province have refused to accept government terms on use of the local road. Officials say the province lost its rights when it voted to transfer the road into the national network in exchange for having it widened.

Las Bambas produced 35,000 tons of copper in August, its first full month of operations—almost a fifth of Peru's overall output. The facility is projected to deliver 400,000 tons per year during the first five years of production. (Reuters, Oct. 28;, Oct. 23; Peru Reports, Oct. 22; La Mula, Oct. 20; Exitosa, Oct. 18;, Oct. 17)

There is also disconent inover the relocation of communities to company-built housing to make way for the mine. Several families in what was Taquiruta village have refused company offers for relocation and are holding out on lands within the operations area. More than 400 families from the pueblos of Taquiruta and Fuerabamba, both in Challhuahuacho district, have been relocated to the pre-fab housing at "Nueva Fuerabamba." (Radio Apurimaq, Oct. 3; IPS, Sept. 17; Reuters, Feb. 16)

As his vice president met with the protesters in Cotabambas, newly elected President Kuczynski, better known as PPK, gave a further indication of a free hand to extractive interests. On Oct. 20, he met with former president Alan García at the latter's residence in Lima for an "interchange of ideas." With PPK's health minister already in hiding from a corruption investigation, this caused some fury in Peru's press. (Correo, Oct. 20) García, who himself challenged PPK in this year's elections, is best known in connection with the 2009 Bagua massacre, when his National Police troops fired on indigenous protesters.

In October 2007, a year into his term, García issued what is now interpreted as a green light for repression, calling indigenous protesters perros del hortelano—a reference to the fable of the "Dog in the Garden," who didn't want the fruits and grains but barked to keep anyone else from harvesting them. He wrote: "[T]here are many unused resources that cannot be traded, that do not receive investment and do not create jobs. And all this because of the taboo of already past ideologies, idleness, laziness or the law of the dog in the manger that says, 'If I do not do it, then let no one do it.'" (Peruvian Times, Oct. 30, 2007)