* "We are dealing with extremists," prime minister says
* Protesters say Xstrata's Tintaya mine causes pollution
* Critics say gov't too willing to use authoritarian tactics
By Marco Aquino and Terry Wade
LIMA, May 28 Two people were killed and 50 were
injured in protests against Xstrata's Peruvian copper mine
Tintaya on Monday, prompting the government to suspend freedom
of assembly in a bid to break roadblocks isolating the mine.
At least 30 of the injured were police and one judicial
official was detained by protesters in the mountainous southern
region of Cusco, officials said.
President Ollanta Humala, a former military officer like
Prime Minister Oscar Valdes, has urged mediation to avert
violence, but critics say he has become impatient with
intransigent protesters and too willing to rely on authoritarian
tactics to maintain order.
The latest protest over the spoils of natural resource
wealth is one of hundreds of disputes that Humala has tried to
defuse. The conflicts threaten to delay billions of dollars in
investments in a sector that drives 60 percent of exports in
Peru's fast-growing economy. They also test Humala's ability to
resolve conflicts in an often polarized political environment.
"What we are dealing with isn't a peaceful protest. We are
dealing with extremists," Valdes said in a nationwide TV
It was at least the second time the Humala administration
has used emergency rules that give the army special police
powers and prohibit people from gathering in groups to end
anti-mining protests in one of the world's leading minerals
At least 10 people have died in disputes over natural
resources since Humala took office in July. At least 174 people
died in similar protests during the government of his
predecessor, Alan Garcia - marring his term.
The Tintaya protest has blocked transport links, but the
global firm's mine is operating normally and its port on the
Pacific coast has stocks of concentrates for the time being, a
company executive said.
Despite being hit by the week-long protest, Xstrata is
committed to investing in Peru and its $1.5 billion expansion to
the Tintaya mine is on track to open in late August, said Luis
Rivera, the company's operations director for Peru.
Protesters in the province of Espinar say the mine causes
pollution and want the company to boost financial donations it
makes to the local government of Espinar, which the company has
rejected, saying its voluntary contributions are already very
'RADICAL POLITICAL POSITION'
"Our local contribution is 30 million soles ($11 million) a
year, which isn't a little," Rivera said. "We give 3 percent of
our pretax profits to the province of Espinar and they want us
to raise this to 30 percent."
Espinar, like many local and regional governments in Peru,
is periodically hit by anti-mining protests by poor residents
who say they have not seen the benefits of the country's
decade-long economic boom. The central government and miners
criticize local governments for lacking the capacity to spend
tax revenue and say they are sitting on piles of cash.
"The municipal budget in Espinar is 190 million soles a
year, and it only manages to spend 30 percent, and they are
asking for more money," Rivera said.
He said all serious studies have shown the mine fully
complies with all environmental standards and that complaints of
the protesters over water quality were being trumped up for
"There is a radical political position behind all of this,"
Humala, a former leftist who now firmly supports projects
proposed by foreign mining companies, has said the far-left,
while small, has tried to stop big mining projects as part of a
push to expand its influence.
Protests against the $4.8 billion Conga mine in northern
Peru, the largest project in the history of the country, have
already delayed U.S.-based Newmont Mining's timetable
for the mine.
"We are interested in dialogue and the development of
Espinar, but we find ourselves facing a very radical
opposition," Mines and Energy Minister Jorge Merino said in a
statement from his office.
"There is a radical current that says no to Antapaccay and
no to Las Bambas. This means they don't want mining, which is
unacceptable," the minister said.
Rivera said the company's Antapaccay copper project, which
is essentially an expansion of Tintaya that would almost double
capacity to 160,000 tonnes a year, is on track to open in late
The existing part of Tintaya is slated to end operations in
2014 and Antapaccay would stay open to 2030 or beyond. Tintaya
currently produces about 90,000 tonnes a year of copper.
Xstrata is also working on its $4.2 billion Las Bambas
project in southern Peru. It would produce an average of 400,000
tonnes of copper concentrate plus gold, silver and molybdenum
byproducts. The company's website says it would open by the end
"Las Bambas is in the engineering phase. Obviously any
political noise in the area affects all projects in southern
Peru," Rivera said.