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Glencore mining faces pushback in Peru

Logo https://stories.swissinfo.ch/glencore-mining-faces-pushback-in-peru?fbclid=IwAR2QtdOPFyieLU2b97cPy4TPm4iwjSpYlMlA7C42SL60MijY1BZu07q2aEQ

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The Switzerland-based multinational wants to expand its copper mining operations in a remote area of the Peruvian Andes. The local community is against the idea, fearing for their health and livelihoods.
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Nearly a thousand Peruvian villagers decked in traditional garb marched high in the Andes mountain range one cold morning in June to denounce the toll that Glencore’s mining activities are taking on them. 

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As Switzerland mulls a popular initiative to hold multinational companies accountable for environmental and human rights abuses abroad, the Tintaya-Antapaccay mining complex in Peru shows how local communities struggle to make their voices heard when millions of dollars are at stake.
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“Everything about this mine affects us.There is no justice for us.”    

-- Maria Cuaquira.

Switching between Spanish and the Quechua dialect, Cuaqira explains that the growing mine has cut off her community from routes traditionally used for herding. Dust from mining activity gives her and her animals sore eyes.
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Cuaquira is one of hundreds of locals convinced that life has changed for the worse since production began at the original copper mine, Tintaya, 34 years ago.

Villagers who live near the now sprawling mining complex feel both the government and the company have failed to improve their lot.

They worry that Glencore's new CHF582 million ($587 million) expansion project at the Coroccohuayco deposit will add to their misfortunes. Villagers are not satisfied with the consultation state authorities did on the behalf of the multinational. They worry that more mining in the area will have a negative environmental impact and bring little economic benefit to them.

The demonstrators worked their way up a steep winding road, locked between barbed wire fences that block off the open pit mine and its towering ore tailings. The road, which used to run though pastures along a brook, is the only access to Alto Huarca, a remote village at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres in the region of Espinar.
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The Quechua-speaking crowd chanted in Spanish, “What do we want? Prior consultation!”

Their top concerns in relation to Glencore’s mining activity in the region are lack of access to clean water, human and animal health consequences of toxic metal contamination, violence by security forces, land rights and inadequate community consultation.

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A 2011 law requires the Peruvian government to seek input from the communities before approving any development plans which might affect them. Representatives of 13 communities were expecting a visit from Peru’s energy and mining minister for a consultation on June 14 but he sent deputies instead.
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No water, no life

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While many of his neighbours have moved away in search of a better life, Francisco Merma still lives in the same adobe home where he was born in 1951. He was already a grown man when the Tintaya mine’s huge pit – located approximately two kilometres from his house – took shape.

The village of Alto Huacane, Merma says, used to have enough water for every person and animal living there. Life was simple before lucrative copper mining projects drew foreign companies to the region. Water flowed freely from the mountains and the streams were relatively clean.

Glencore, the Swiss multinational that has been running the company since May 2013, now rations potable water to the community twice a week, he says. “What am I supposed to do?” asks Merma, opening the tap on an outdoor sink which he said was recently installed by the mine. Not a drop of water flows out.
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Merma blames the struggle to access fresh water and environmental pollution for the exodus of his neighbours and the demise of his livestock. Communities in this area are convinced that the high rate of animal miscarriages is due to toxins released by mining activities. Merma brought two newly aborted alpaca foetuses from a nearby enclosure to illustrate the scale of the problem.

“There is not enough water for living here,” adds the villager. “We used to have lots of animals but all I have now is a couple of cows, five sheep and a few alpacas. When the animals drink from the river, they die, they foam from the mouth and suffer miscarriages constantly.”
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Copper – a reddish metal central for conducting electricity that has multiple industrial and household uses – is the main output of the vast mining effort.
Gold, silver and minerals such as molybdenum, used in steel alloys, have also been extracted from the Antapaccay and Tintaya mines.

Glencore is the fourth-largest copper producing company in the world. Peru was the second largest copper producing country in 2018.

Villagers are concerned the new mine will raise more irritating dust and further pollute an already limited water supply. Some communities are taking a more pragmatic approach by seeking compensation in the form of better infrastructure and services.
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The high-rise neighbourhood that sprouted up between Merma’s house and the mine in the 1990s has also fuelled resentment in the wider community. It houses Glencore miners who mainly come from other parts of Peru.

“In those apartments they have lots of water, I would imagine,” says Merma. “They even wash their cars with it.”
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Glencore told swissinfo.ch that water is discharged into the river after “proper treatment” at the Antapaccay mine. In an e-mail message, the company said, “environmental monitoring takes place on a regular basis by internal experts as well as by the governmental Agency for Assessment and Environmental Control (OEFA) and the National Water Authority”.

Those internal and external audits, it stated, show that “there is no impact from our mining operations.”

However, due to the natural geology in this copper-belt area, “The river water is not fit for human consumption. We recognise that access to clean water is a problem and help the local authorities in finding a solution”.

Peru's environmental agency did not respond to requests for comment.


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Just how toxic?

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Many residents living near the mine blame serious health problems such as cancer and the death of relatives on the toxic metals released by mining activities. They believe these toxins are also responsible for a high incidence of animal miscarriages.
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Teofilo Alcapari, whose home is located next to the Antapaccay mine, blames environmental pollution for his son’s learning problems and the death of his father from cancer.

“It’s the heavy metals that come from these operations and the landslides from tailings,” he explains, referencing the massive unstable piles of ore that are sometimes discarded near homes and water sources.

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A 2013 study by the Peruvian environment ministry across 15 communities found that in 41 of 58 sites where water was tested, samples contained at least one heavy metal or other chemicals above permissible levels. In 2016, the agriculture ministry said that farm animal exposure levels to heavy metals in the same area were within “acceptable values.”

Jonh Astete, an expert at the National Centre for Occupational Health and the Environment, said the heavy metal exposure documented in humans appeared to be related to the mining operations. But he noted that “natural exposure” to those metals also occurs in highly mineralized mountainous areas.
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Long-term exposure to high levels of copper dust can irritate the nose, mouth and eyes.

Drinking copper-contaminated water causes nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea.

Extreme exposures to copper sulphate can cause liver or kidney damage, as well as death, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.   

The agency does not classify copper as a human carcinogen  “because there are no adequate human or animal cancer studies."
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Nobody listens to us

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Andres Aventino lives in Tintaya Marquiri, a town located just a few hundred metres from the mine’s entrance. Standing near the grave of his aunt, who died recently from kidney cancer, he wanted to send a message directly to Glencore’s CEO Ivan Glasenberg.

“Your administrators and managers at Tintaya and Antapaccay are not attending to local residents,” he said. “They do not listen to us. I have many questions but I do not have the answers.”

He held up documents showing his property titles, explaining that most people living nearest the two mines are being pressured to sell their land to the company for unfair prices. Some locals who sell are offered jobs, he says, but must then stick to strict confidentiality agreements.

Aventino proposed that indigenous landowners be granted shareholder status at Glencore, which he felt would resolve many issues between communities and the mine.
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Glencore told swissinfo.ch that it has not considered granting shareholder status to landowners in Peru and that its contracts abide by Peruvian law.
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Meanwhile, plans for the newest mine, Coroccohuayco, continue. Glencore recently presented an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to the Peruvian government, which is widely expected to greenlight the project soon. The EIA is based on a selection of studies commissioned by the Swiss multinational.

Ultimately, Coroccohuayco is expected to occupy over 10,000 hectares of land. The community that would be most affected by Glencore’s expansion asked for the plans to be presented and discussed in public.

“The government is operating in such a way that the environmental impact study for Coroccohuayco will be approved before going to the region for prior consultation,” said Leonidas Wiener, a legal specialist with CooperAcción, an organisation that helps to defend indigenous rights.

Miguel Kuzma of the energy and mining ministry told community presidents that consultation had not happened earlier because the mining concession was granted before Peru introduced national legislation on prior consultation.

“You come here as if you were lawyers of the company. Where is the state of law?” asked Felipe Cana, a village president from nearby Pacopata, when commenting on the presentation made by Kuzma and other national officials.
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A history of violence

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Disputes over rights to the land where Glencore is building its mine have sometimes turned violent. Last December the mining company grabbed local headlines when its security agents clashed with locals defending a plot of land near the mine, leaving three people wounded. Among them was Francisca Umasi.

“We have not sold our land, the mining company forcefully wants to take us away," Umasi told a Peruvian newspaper at the time. 
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Several people were wounded when the Alto Huarca indigenous community and police clashed over conflicting claims to the land in April 2018. Around 40 police officers sought to displace families from an area that Glencore says it legally owns, according to local media and Multiwatch Switzerland. Locals were upset over lack of consultation and financial compensation.

In its first human rights report, published this year, Glencore said it launched an “independent review of the events in Antapaccay” last year to determine whether the firm’s security team “behaved in a way that is inconsistent with our Code of Conduct, security and human rights policies and training”, in which case “appropriate action will be taken”.

Glencore told swissinfo.ch that “a family trespassed onto Antapaccay land and threw stones at Antapaccay security personnel and equipment. Antapaccay contacted the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Espinar who requested that the local police attend the situation and help restore order”.
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For locals, the 2018 incidents triggered memories of a deadly clash six years earlier when the mine belonged to Glencore’s predecessor Xstrata.
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Anglo-Swiss mining group Xstrata allegedly paid £700,000 (CHF850,000) to 1,300 police officers and provided them with guns, ammunition, food and lodging. It is also accused of having encouraged forces to mistreat protesters. The case is currently being heard in a London court.
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What next?

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What next?

Frustrated indigenous communities across Peru are increasingly taking their disputes over oil and mining concessions to court. They are on a winning streak but it appears unlikely that a pending lawsuit will stop Glencore’s expansion plans.

In August, Peru was forced to suspend a construction permit for another mining project, the Tia Maria copper mine, worth $1.4 billion (CHF1.39 billion), after violent protests from nearby residents worried about pollution and loss of access to water.

Officials from Peru’s environmental protection agency, health ministry and national water authority are expected to visit the area around the Tintaya-Antapaccay mining complex to study concerns about the potential environmental impact of Glencore’s expansion plans.

Operations at Coroccohuayco are slated to start this year.




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Glencore – which in 2018 contributed around CHF560 million to Peru’s economy in taxes and employs 4,300 people in the country – regularly states that it consults local communities and aims to strengthen them.

Ghovana Larota, whose family property borders the Antapaccay mine, begs to differ.

“The mine says that it works hand in hand with the communities, but it’s not like that,” she says. “They are cheating us."
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Credits

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Author: Paula Dupraz-Dobias

Photos:  Sebastian Castañeda
               (Additional photos SDA-Keystone)

Graphics: Kai Reusser

Video: Sebastian Castañeda and Paula Dupraz-Dobias

Production:  Dominique Soguel
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