Peruvian Town May Move for Chinese Mine

While protesters appear to have staved off a planned copper plant in Shifang, Sichuan, a Chinese mining company plans to relocate an entire town which sits atop a major copper deposit in the mountains of Peru. Residents have been promised new homes in a $50 million development elsewhere. While Chinese mine operators have threatened a major archaeological site in Afghanistan and faced accusations of labour abuses in Zambia, Chinalco is presenting the project as a model for others in Peru. From Reuters:

Residents from the poor, ramshackle town of Morococha, where children attend school steps away from discarded mine tailings, will get access to amenities they currently lack, like modern water, sewage and electrical systems. They will all also own their homes and no one will need to pay rent.

[…] If Chinalco persuades residents to move to Nueva Morococha, or “New Morococha,” 15 minutes away by car – a feat that is still not certain – it could change ideas about corporate responsibility as President Ollanta Humala struggles to resolve hundreds of conflicts over natural resources that threaten $50-billion in pledged private investments.

“A project of this size has generated very high hopes,” said Pedro Salazar, Chinalco’s representative in Nueva Morococha, standing in front of rows of homogeneous homes with white walls and red roofs. “Other mining firms are looking at this as a point of reference.”

Toromocho is expected to open in late 2013, operate for 35 years, and produce 250,000 tonnes of copper a year – nearly a quarter of Peru’s 2011 output. A free-trade agreement with China will ease exports of the red metal to the world’s second largest economy.

A more harmonious path for the industry is urgently needed in Peru, where clashes over mining have led to several deaths in recent weeks. From the Associated Press:

A civilian was killed and a prominent anti-mining activist arrested in protests on Wednesday against Peru’s biggest gold mining project, further inflaming tensions after the government declared a state of emergency.

[…] It was the second emergency declared in five weeks to quell the protests. A 30-day emergency period had just ended in Espinar, a highlands province near the former Incan capital of Cuzco. Two people were killed in the area on 29 May while protesting against a copper mine.

The focus of Tuesday’s protest is the $4.8bn (£2.5bn) Conga gold mining project, which was suspended late last year by US-based Newmont Mining Co. Protests were started by local residents who said the mine would hurt their water supplies.

[…] Protesters accuse Humala, who has been in office for a year, of reneging on a campaign promise to put access to clean water ahead of mining projects.