Cocachacra, Peru – In a corner of southern Peru the land is so barren that Nasa uses it as a stand-in for Mars to see if potatoes can be grown on that lifeless planet. But the desert of red dirt gives way to the green Tambo river valley, where farmers live off an abundance of onions, rice and sugar cane.
Some locals are taking up arms to protect this oasis. Last year, three were killed and hundreds wounded in violent clashes over the $1.4bn Tía María copper and gold mine, owned by Southern Copper, which is perched by the valley. Black-clad anti-riot police are now stationed there.
“Whoever is the next president will have to deal with mining conflicts because neither companies nor governments respect communities,” says Jesús Cornejo, head of the water users’ association in the nearby town of Cocachacra, which is peppered with green flags reading: “Yes to farming, no to the mine.”
Mining is the backbone of Peru’s economy. With the commodities downturn, that will represent a dilemma for Keiko Fujimori or Pedro Pablo Kuczynski after June 5, when they face each other in a runoff after failing to secure a presidential majority this month.
Work on the planned Tía María mine was first halted in April 2011 after protests. It is one of 208 hotspots for social conflict in the country, mainly land and water resource disputes over mining, according to data from Peru’s ombudsman office.
Industry insiders estimate that more than $30bn of mining investment is stalled because of conflicts or economic constraints on companies due to lower mineral prices. The $5bn gold and copper Minas Conga in Cajamarca, spearheaded by US miner Newmont, has been on hold since December 2011 over a water use conflict, in which several people have been killed.
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