How mining risks could escalate after Peru's regional elections

Bnamericas Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2022
How mining risks could escalate after Peru's regional elections

Arequipa, a region that hosted the Perumin 35 mining event, faces an uncertain future that puts the development of large mining projects in doubt. The Quellaveco copper mine is one of those in doubt. After a meeting between authorities of the Arequipa province of Islay – Quellaveco's area of influence – and central government officials, it was decided that the permits that guarantee access to water for the project will be reviewed.

The decision, which worries investors, especially since it is a project that has all its permits, according to the energy and mines ministry, came a week after Perumin, the largest mining convention in the country, and following the 2022 regional elections.

Others will be influenced by what happens at large mines like Quellaveco, such as copper projects Michiquillay in Cajamarca region and Tía María in Arequipa.

BNamericas spoke with Gonzalo Banda, a political analyst and columnist from Arequipa region, about the election results, the risk of recent protests and other issues.

BNamericas: What is your view of the regional election results?

Banda: The trend of recent years is repeated: significant presence of regional movements, but increasingly disjointed, new and temporary. Before there was a little more continuity, and power was alternated between two or three parties.

In the case of Rohel Sánchez, governor-elect in Arequipa, his movement [Yo Arequipa] is new, and this is repeated in various parts of Peru.

BNamericas: What explains why politicians and others opt for movements over traditional parties?

Banda: Traditional parties have the difficulty of keeping the bases alive in regions. In certain places where they have won, they have done so with candidates who are not activists. Regional politics is basically independents and candidates running their campaigns.

Regional politicians, more than ideological and militant, are pragmatic. They want to win the election and, in the absence of being able to be reelected, they want to win fast and soon.

BNamericas: Would this apply to certain districts of the southern mining corridor [CMS] where the leftist Perú Libre party won?

Banda: Partly yes, but the positioning of the party in that area is very important. The districts of Livitacas [where the Constancia copper mine operates] and Velille [where the CMS highway passes], although they don’t have a large population or weight in national politics, are important in handling some protests.

This could bring complications to the State, especially when the message portrayed in Perumin was to promote investment and encourage mining exploration by cutting red tape.

BNamericas: Has there been a similar result in Arequipa?

Banda: In the province of Islay, where the Tía María project is located, and the area of influence of the Quellaveco project, Richard Ale has been elected. He was mayor of various districts in the province, and is against the Tía María project.

This went a bit unnoticed. It was even surprising that there were no anti-mining protests during Perumin. Those who promoted them were concentrated on campaigning, and surely Ale will be a destabilizing element within the province. There was no opponent who could have put up a serious fight against him in Islay.

BNamericas: What is the risk of someone like Richard Ale?

Banda: He’s not going to back down from the claims he has been defending. One thing is that you have leaders and congressmen who met a few days ago with officials of the president and established that the water permits were going to be reviewed [for Quellaveco]. Another thing is that you have a political authority with legitimacy and that can organize the community.

In the past we’ve seen that, without the need to have an anti-mining mayor, there was pressure coming from the districts. As the issue at Quellaveco [and also Tía María] is about limited water resources, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ale has a position similar to what they have gone to negotiate in Lima.

BNamericas: In this context, what is the real weight of the provincial mayors compared to the regional governor?

Banda: District governors and mayors do not have powers over large-scale mining. Only the national government has that. The problem is that, given the nature of the conflicts, the governors have been important in the negotiations on the project. Rohel Sánchez, only when he was elected, said that he is against Tía María.

Beyond the role of these authorities, what is striking is that the leaders who have protested against Quellaveco have not gone to meet with mayors or governors. They’ve gone to congressmen and the president.

In the case of Tía María, several filters were needed to reach the president. Now they would no longer have to pass through them, so the problem is much more serious than one thinks.

BNamericas: A new door opens for lawsuits...

Banda: Exactly. This can compromise multiple projects. By directly addressing the demands from above, there is a drastic change in the handling of powers. If the governor wanted to intervene to mediate in a conflict, the mayors and/or leaders know that they can reach the president, or congressmen, directly. There may be a domino effect on demands regarding other projects.

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