LIMA – Schools were closed Wednesday in the southern Peruvian region of Arequipa amid concerns about potential violence associated with a 24-hour strike against the Tia Maria copper mine project.
The strike was called in solidarity with protests in Islay province against the mine, owned by Southern Copper Corporation, which is controlled by Mexico City-based mining giant Grupo Mexico.
The president of the Arequipa Departmental Workers’ Federation, Geronimo Lopez Sevillano, told Efe that organizers expect some 80,000 residents will support the strike, noting that youth and farmers’ organizations have joined unions in backing the protest.
“I believe this protest has the support of 60 percent of Arequipa’s residents and that everyone will gather in (Arequipa city’s) Plaza de Armas starting at midday to demand the government cancel the project,” Lopez said.
Opponents of the $1.4 billion project say the mine will contaminate crops and the Tambo River. Southern Copper has been unable to allay those concerns despite its insistence that the mine will use desalinated water from the Pacific Ocean.
Tia Maria, which is to begin operating in 2017, is expected to produce around 120,000 tons of copper cathodes annually.
The strike comes 31 days after the start of protests in Islay against the mine. Violent incidents involving demonstrators and the police broke out over the first few days, leaving dozens injured and causing damage to a fire station in Islay’s Cocachacra district.
Prime Minister Pedro Cateriano said last week in Arequipa that “the government intends to resolve the dispute” and will hold talks with mine opponents “as often as necessary to move this project forward.”