Peru to rethink approval for Tia Maria copper project

LIMA, July 25 (Reuters) - The Peruvian government will re-evaluate its recent decision to grant a construction permit to Southern Copper Corp for its proposed mine Tia Maria at the request of local authorities calling for its annulment, Peru’s president said late on Wednesday.

After more than a week of protests against the company and the government in the southern region of Arequipa, President Martin Vizcarra said he would reconsider his government’s recent green light for the proposed $1.4 billion, 120,000-tonnes-per-year copper project.

Tia Maria has been stalled for nearly a decade due to opposition from residents of Arequipa who fear it will harm crops or use up local water supplies. The construction license granted earlier this month allowed the environmental permit for the project to remain in force ahead of an Aug. 1 deadline.

The government will begin “a process of revision backed up and broadened with documentation that will be given to the energy and mines ministry for evaluation,” Vizcarra said in reference to information local authorities plan to submit.

“In function of that I’ll make a decision,” Vizcarra added in televised comments to journalists following a meeting with governors from southern Peru.

Vizcarra’s comments were a blow to Southern Copper’s plan to revive Tia Maria and start production in 2022. But they also suggest that Vizcarra, a relatively popular president, may become more engaged in trying to ease opposition to the project.

Since taking office in March 2018, Vizcarra has largely left Tia Maria and other mining conflicts to his Cabinet to handle.

Southern Copper Corp, controlled by the Mexican conglomerate Grupo Mexico, did not respond to requests for comment. The company reiterated on Wednesday that it would not begin construction on Tia Maria until it has the support of local residents.

Earlier this decade, at least six residents of Arequipa were killed in clashes with police during protests against Tia Maria. A more than week-long protest against the project continued on Thursday in Arequipa, with local media reporting some clashes this week. (Reporting by Marco Aquino in Lima Writing By Mitra Taj Editing by Matthew Lewis)