Peruvian news sources report on a highly-charged plebiscite in the sierra of Piura, northern Peru, where local communities voted overwhelmingly last Sunday against the development of a planned copper mine, which local farmers and environmentalists say could poison water sources and affect biodiversity in the region .
More than 90 percent of voters in the districts of Ayabaca, Pacaipampa and Carmen de la Frontera, voted against the plans of Chinese-owned company Minera Majaz to mine copper and molibdenum in a project known as Rio Blanco. Around 60 percent of 31,000 registered electors turned out across the three districts, some walking many hours to arrive at a polling station.
The vote, which was organised by the mayors of the three district municipalities, was criticised in advance by Peru's national government, which called it 'illegal' and 'non-binding'. Peru's electoral office (ONPE) and national election jury (JNE) had refused to recognise the plebiscite, and called for the confiscation of official electoral materials that were to be used in the vote.
But the vote went ahead peacefully, despite prior claims of threats against locals who do support the mine. International observers from Ecuador, Bolivia, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Switzerland attended.
Majaz Minera is a subsidiary of British company Monterrico Metals, which has recently been acquired by Chinese consortium Zijin. Exploratory work has been occurring in the region since 2002. Preliminary results from a study by the University of Texas suggest that this phase has already caused some damage to the region's biodiversity, which includes the Andean spectacled bear and highland tapir. Local farmers fear that mining operations will diminish the quantity and quality of rivers which irrigate both the western (Pacific) and eastern (Amazonian) slopes of the Andes. The latter is a notable coffee-exporting region.
The Peruvian government has claimed that the vote was promoted by 'anti-mining' NGOs, who along with foreign missionaries it blames for stirring up opposition to the mine. Prime Minister Jorge del Castillo said that 'people who oppose investment can't demand its benefits'. President Alan Garcia called anti-mining activists 'old communists' responsible for 'a conspiracy to stop the country growing and producing'.
But analysts say that opposition owes more to bad historical experiences with mining operations in Peru. They cite lack of direct benefit for mining regions, weak governmental regulatory capability, and a poor record of mining company environmental and labour practices.
Also, Peru doesn't have a Ministry for the Environment or independent environmental agency. The organisation responsible for assessing environmental impact reports for mining projects is the Ministry of Energy and Mining, which is also charged with attracting and promoting mining investment.
Del Castillo is now calling for dialogue between the government, mining company and local authorities. District mayors have said they would be happy to engage in dialogue but that it must include community leaders from the respective districts.
The mining company, whose public face until now has been its English spokesman Andrew Bristow, says it is also prepared to talk. But for now, local communities have had the final say.
Categories: mining, Rio Blanco, Peru, Majaz, Piura