LIMA – Seven police were wounded in fresh clashes with local residents protesting Southern Copper’s Tia Maria mine project in the Peruvian province of Islay, part of the southern region of Arequipa.
National Police Gen. Enrique Blanco told Radio Programas del Peru that slingshot-fired rocks struck the police Tuesday in Cocachacra, where earlier that morning officers took down barricades blocking the entrance to the town, the epicenter of anti-mining protests that have left three dead and more than 200 injured.
He said four of the officers were taken by helicopter to a hospital in the regional capital of Arequipa, whose inhabitants launched a 72-hour protest action Tuesday in support of the 52-day-old “indefinite strike” in Islay.
In Lima, Peru’s government suspended talks with Southern Copper, a unit of Mexican mining giant Grupo Mexico, due to suspicion of possible secret negotiations between the mining company and protest organizers aimed at lifting the strike in exchange for monetary compensation.
The national government also froze the bank accounts of municipalities opposed to the project to prevent them from bankrolling the protests.
Energy and Mines Minister Rosa Maria Ortiz has demanded that Grupo Mexico Chairman and CEO German Larrea clarify responsibilities for a telephone conversation - aired last Thursday by the channel Willax TV - in which a protest leader, Pepe Julio Gutierrez, appears to ask a lawyer working for Southern Copper for a bribe in exchange for ending the demonstrations.
Gutierrez denies any wrongdoing and said the recording was doctored.
Southern on Monday said it is regrettable that that “wrongful action was carried out by third parties outside the organization” and stressed its commitment to upholding Peruvian law and its code of ethical business conduct.
Ortiz, however, said Peru’s government will investigate a possible cover-up by the company and could initiate legal action.
Southern Copper said on March 27 that it had no plans to halt the Tia Maria project, contradicting an announcement to that effect hours earlier by its official spokesman in Peru, who said the project would have to be scrapped due to “anti-mining terrorism.”
Southern Copper plans to invest some $1.2 billion in the construction of Tia Maria, which has an estimated mine life of 18 years and is projected to produce 120,000 metric tons of copper cathodes annually from the start of operations.