(Bloomberg) — Roadblocks of mud, sticks and steel wire bar the entrance to villages lining the northern side of the Rio Tambo, a sign of revolt in the fertile valley cultivated since Inca times.
For almost a decade, the farmers of this green strip wedged between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean have resisted the construction of a copper mine they say will pollute the water course and destroy their livelihoods. Now they feel betrayed by Peru’s president after his government gave final approval to Southern Copper Corp.’s Tia Maria project.
“We can’t allow it,” said councilwoman Zulema Quispe, who was navigating the barricades on the back of a motorcycle. Fields tilled for centuries will be tainted for future generations by the mine to be located just half a mile away, she said. “The president is giving priority to a multinational company and we won’t accept it.”
To the outside, Peru looks like an island of calm in the sea of unrest sweeping South America. But the anger of farmers in the southern region of Arequipa shows the country isn’t immune to the kind of malaise beyond its borders—and that President Martin Vizcarra holds the key.
Vizcarra is engaged in a high-stakes experiment to harness public outrage over rampant corruption and blow up the establishment, while trying to keep Peru’s mining-dependent economy on track. His signature decision to dismiss the opposition-controlled Congress this fall has won him allies and emboldened his detractors at a time when protests have rocked neighboring Bolivia and Chile to the east and south, and Ecuador and Colombia in the north.
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