(Reuters) – Mining conflicts in Peru, a top global minerals exporter, will likely heat up ahead of presidential and congressional elections next year as political outsiders whip up anti-mining sentiment, government officials and business leaders said.
Protests from local community groups have derailed three mining projects worth $7 billion in the past five years, and threaten to hold up more.
Carlos Galvez, head of Peru’s main mining association, said opponents of mining projects can win votes in rural areas where poverty rates are high and many eke out a living as farmers.
“Here everyone is anti. If you’re anti-mining then you’re in fashion,” said Galvez, who leads the National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy.
Southern Copper Corp’s $1.4 billion Tia Maria project was put on hold last month amid deadly protests.
David Montoya, a cabinet official tasked with conflict prevention, accused protest leaders of feeding fears about pollution from Tia Maria in order to win the dispute and pave a political future for themselves. “They shut down discussion,” he said.
Several leading opponents of Tia Maria belong to an environmental party, Tierra y Libertad (“Land and Freedom”), that plans to run a candidate in the presidential election in April 2016. The group currently has no seats in Congress and is not seen as a leading contender.
Polls show most Peruvians favor mining, which accounts for about 60 percent of the country’s export earnings.
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