The first day of a national strike against the Tia Maria copper mine project in Arequipa was peaceful yesterday.
In Arequipa, 200 protesters blocked an access highway near the airport for an hour before police dislodged them with tear gas. Protesters managed to block roads in Puno, Moquegua and Tacna, temporarily preventing regional transit in the far south of the country. Seven were arrested for blocking a road in Ayacucho.
In the Tambo valley which has seen the most violence and is currently under martial law in accordance with the state of emergency, residents made noise by banging pots and pans from the doorways of their homes for over an hour.
Demonstrators numbering in the hundreds marched the downtown streets of Arequipa, Abancay, Huancavelica, Moquegua, Puno and Tacna. Environmental organizations in Cusco had announced they would observe the strike, but no mobilizations materialized yesterday.
“[Arequipa saw a little drama] because the police had to use tear gas to prevent [the blocking of the bridge]. One was arrested, but there was no bigger news in the area. Everything was calm,” said national police director Jorge Flores. “In almost every region there were peaceful demonstrations. The only incidents were the Añashuayco bridge in Arequipa and the clearing of the Libertadores road in Ayacucho. There were no physical confrontations anywhere else.”
Today marks the second day of the national strike, and as of this writing no major incidents have been reported.
The national strike to be held in eight Peruvian states was announced just after a speech to the nation by President Ollanta Humala in which he rejected calls to suspend the $1.4 billion copper project. Humala’s speech came during the peak of violent demonstrations in the city of Arequipa and the Tambo valley in the southern state of Arequipa where Southern Copper plans to build the mine.
Since the President’s speech and the opposition’s announcement of the two-day strike, Humala’s government declared a 60-day state of emergency in the Islay province after the fourth death in indefinite protests that have gone on for over two months. One key anti-mining movement leader has been jailed and two others are under investigation for attempting to solicit a bribe from Southern Copper to end opposition to the mine. In addition to extortion, prosecutors are investigating Pepe Julio Gutierrez, Jesus Cornejo and Dean Valdivia district mayor Jaime De La Cruz for aggravated manslaughter for inciting the murder of a police officer by a mob of protesters.
Fearing the legal state of emergency in Islay province would prompt opposition leaders to send violent protesters known as “The Spartans” or “Tambo Spartans” to sow violence in other regions during the two-day strike, Humala deployed the military to seven states on Monday to assist the police in keeping order.
Mining and energy minister Rosa Ortiz told reporters there would be no third environmental impact study for the Tia Maria copper mine project. “First off, it would violate the rule of law because any new decision would subject to consultation and continue like that until the end of time,” Ortiz said. “While I am in office there will definitely not be a third environmental impact study because [the mine] has been approved under current regulations.”
Indefinite protests which began March 23 have led to four deaths and over 200 injuries in the Arequipa state of southern Peru. Local farmers concerned for agriculture have demanded that Southern Copper abandon the $1.4 billion copper mine. Attempts at dialogue have failed twice as the opposition has been unwilling to budge from its demand. Tia Maria protests have resulted in seven deaths since 2011.