Clashes between police and protestors demonstrating against a $1.4 billion copper mining project in southern Peru erupted Friday, leaving one person dead and at least seven others injured, and prompting the government to declare a state of emergency.
Video from Peru's Islay province shows police using slingshots to launch stones at frenzied protesters, who respond by hurling rocks back at the cops. Tear gas was also fired during the confrontation, and the footage contains graphic images of a man on ground with severe injuries to his head and face.
The dead man was identified as 55-year-old Ramon Colque. A local news report quoted Colque's nephew as saying he held Peru's interior minister responsible for the death of his uncle, who he said was hit by a bullet while selling stuffed potatoes at the demonstration.
Demonstrations against the Tía María copper mining project in Peru, the world's third-biggest copper producer, have been going on for the past few months, forcing Grupo Mexico, owned by Mexican mining billionaire German Larrea Mota Velasco, to call for a two-month truce. Three other people have reportedly been killed and more than 200 others wounded in clashes between authorities and protesters.
In late March, communities in the Arequipa region, not far from Peru's southern border with Chile, expressed fears that the yearly production of 120,000 tons of copper cathodes will pollute their land and water. The Peruvian government responded by sending 2,000 police to the area, and the army deployed 1,000 soldiers to back them up. Police were authorized to use firearms in "a rational way" if attacked by protesters, according to a statement issued Tuesday by Interior Minister José Luis Pérez Guadalupe.
Spanish news agency EFE reported on Friday that Oscar Gonzalez Rocha, CEO and president of Southern Copper, a subsidiary of Grupo Mexico, announced a 60-day "pause" to allow the company and its opponents to present "their concerns and fears," and to "agree on a path to move forward."
"No project can be imposed by force; a truce would be the most appropriate," said Carlos Galvez, president of Peru's National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy, a non-profit business association, according to Mexico's El Economista.
The announcement apparently did nothing to quell the community outrage, however, and civil groups in seven regions in southern Peru called for a 48-hour work stoppage on May 27 and 28 to demand the total annulment of the mining project.
Unions representing workers in the US, Canada, and Mexico offered support for the Peruvian protesters in a statement issued Monday. The union leaders said they "condemn the brutal military repression directed by the Peruvian government and Grupo Mexico/Southern Copper against the people of Arequipa who oppose the Tía María project."
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"The mineral wealth of a country should be used for the benefit of the people, including the workers, and not to destroy the environment for the benefit of the corporations and politicians," the union statement said.
In a press release published in Peru's El Comercio last week, Grupo Mexico, Mexico's largest mining and infrastructure consortium, said that the Tía María project has obtained all the required permits, and has taken local communities into account by setting up a mechanism of public consultations and citizen participation.
Peru's Energy and Mines Ministry said in April that Southern Copper has guaranteed that it won't touch water intended to be used for farming, and that dust from the mining process will also be controlled. In its statement, Grupo Mexico reported that the Tía María mine would only use ocean water from a new $95 million desalinization plant.
Southern Copper's spokesman in Peru, Julio Morriberon, announced in late March that the company was canceling the project because of ongoing "anti-mining terrorism" in the area, but his comments were amended by Grupo Mexico's top executives. Southern Copper's CEO Gonzalez Rocha told Reuters that Morriberon's announcement "did not totally reflect the intention of the board."
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