Clashes in Islay against the Tia Maria project. Photo: Ideele reporteros
In the Tia Maria conflict, in Peru's Arequipa region, the dialogue has failed or does not exist because of six essential reasons that, objectively and impartially, I try to summarize.
By Jorge Agurto
1. Lack of sincerity, good faith and transparency
Since the first attempt to develop the Tia Maria copper project back in 2009, there was no sincerity nor good faith on part of the Peruvian State and the mining company, Southern Copper, to share information in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in a complete and transparent way.
It was stressed, as it is now, that the study was solid, complete and flawless... until the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS) brought it down with 136 observations. This first EIA was canceled in 2011, with the social cost of three deaths by police repression.
The most common sense and ideal situation would have been that the government ask the UNOPS once more to review the second EIA before approving this sensitive project again in 2014. But the government and the company gave pretexts and avoided the review of the study by this impartial body.
The consequences are plain to see. Now it is too late for the government or any agency to be credible or gain the necessary social reception.
This situation is even worse considering that serious technical objections to the second EIA came to light as well as the concealment of facts, such as that the project also intends to mine gold (while the project was always described as copper project) which the company would have had to develop special control measures for these kind of projects.
2. Belligerent, aggressive and unfriendly attitude against Mayors and leaders
The government and the mining company never treated the opponents of the Tia Maria project as citizens and their representatives as interlocutors.
Adjectives as ignorant, recalcitrant and enemies of development have been applied not only to local farmers but also to social leaders critical of the project.
The provincial mayor of Islay and three other district mayors, legitimately elected as representative authorities, have been denigrated and abused even though they are also part of the Peruvian State.
The press, mostly controlled by El Comercio Group, has lent itself to the infamy of celebrating the statements of the national authorities whom are in favor of mining and to denigrate the local authorities and citizens who defend agriculture.
This belligerent attitude has not helped to create the conditions for a rapprochement or constructive dialogue between the two actors bent on diametrically opposite and extreme positions.
3. Maneuvering and accusations of anti-mining terrorism
The false announcement of the cancellation of the Tia Maria project due to opposition by "anti-mining terrorism" was at the same time a stupidity and a serious accusation thrown by a senior official of the mining company.
While the cancellation was denied a few hours later, there is no doubt that it was an intentional maneuver to pressure the government to tighten its strategy and impose the project based on delegitimizing opponents.
The accusation of "anti-mining terrorism" was echoed by many business and political spokesmen and was reproduced often enough until it became commonplace in public opinion. As serious as the accusation is the government has never exhibited any evidence for the alleged political or terrorist conspiracy accusations against mining activities.
4. Repression, deaths, media operations
A fourth misconception is that police repression can solve a conflict that has deep social roots. The government is mistaken if thinks that the citizens of Arequipa can be turned docile with bullets and tear gas.
The unveiling of a "terrorist farmer", the shooting to death of two unarmed civilians and the disproportionate police presence in Islay province is the worst scenario to build bridges and promote dialogue.
Members of the police are also victims of a conflict that they have not generated and which exposes risks to their integrity. More than 100 police officers have been injured so far, some seriously wounded.
The adoption of a State of Emergency involves the restriction or suspension of constitutional rights such as freedom of speech, inviolability of homes and freedom of assembly and movement. Obviously, this measure will not solve the conflict, rather it will aggravate the open wounds of a community that has not lost its dignity and is willing to sacrifice in order to defend, paradoxically, its life and future.
5. False dialogue scenarios and accusations of intransigence
Until today the scenarios and agendas for dialogue have been handled by the government in a way that is only convenient to the mining company's claims, without respecting the basic conditions for horizontal, direct and respectful dialogue between two confronting parties.
Some government officials, such as the Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal, played the dirty game of presenting the local leaders to the press as rebellious, intransigent and unwilling to dialogue.
What the government does not accept is, that at this stage of the conflict, the population of the Tambo Valley rejects the project and will not dialogue without a sign of distension, which today can only mean the cancellation or suspension of the project.
6. Avoid addressing the fundamental issue
The underlying problem generated by the conflict is the coexistence of large-scale mining and agriculture in the province of Islay and in the Tambo Valley.
The government avoids recognizing that behind the Tia Maria project is a set of other mining projects, whose concessions cover more than 85 percent of the province of Islay. The intention seems to be to turn the entire province into a mining district.
In such conditions, the survival of agriculture and livestock farming is practically unfeasible. It is not just a single mining project, but also an activity whose intensity and extension threatens the current life conditions and survival of most of the population of the Valley.
They human rights of the population in the Valley and their legitimate right to defend their way of life, economic means and development option are at stake.
Let us not forget that agriculture is a sustainable economic activity and the Political Constitution of Peru in its Article 88 states: "The State preferentially supports agricultural development".
In conclusion, if Tía María failed it is not because of an anti-mining conspiracy, but because the nature of the project that makes it unfeasible and also the mistakes of the government and its spokesmen and operators.