The devil wears copper. A chronicle by Fernando Vivas about the threats against Cuajone.

The devil wears copper. A chronicle by Fernando Vivas about the threats against Cuajone.

Southern Peru fears that Tumilaca community members will once again blockade Cuajone. They say that their $5 billion request is negotiable, but they do not accept the company's counterproposal.

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The devil dresses in copper. A chronicle by Fernando Vivas about the threats against Cuajone.

Cuajone has an approximate population of 5 thousand inhabitants between workers and their families; it produces 7% of the national copper and must be understood with 477 community members.

In 46 years of operation, Cuajoneit had never paralyzed its operations beyond technical adjustments and extraordinary events. The violent stoppage they suffered between February 28 and April 20, due to the blockade of their railway line and, above all, to the seizure of the Viña Blanca reservoir that left it without water to mine and camp; is described by the CEO of Southern Peru Copper Corporation (SPCC), Raúl Jacob, as “an extortion”. I asked Jacob if he has an explanation for the awakening of this radical nature of the protests and he admits he does not have a theory and is inclined to think (although there is no proof to the song and it is not the task of the company to generate it but of the State) that there is some anti-mining activism influencing the community.

For their part, the directors of the Tumilaca Pocata Coscore Tala community (TPCT is one and comprises four annexes), do not give their arm to twist with respect to claiming an overwhelming amount -$5 billion for the past and 5% of the gross profits annually onwards, as stated in the minutes of its meeting on February 12, as compensation for what they call the “usufruct of communal land by the company”. One day before, the company began the construction of a hydraulic line, and the movement of machinery motivated the formulation of the proposal that had already been latent for some time.

The devil dresses in copper. A chronicle by Fernando Vivas about the threats against Cuajone.

This is the first page of the minutes of the communal assembly in which the amount of $5 billion is mentioned.

I spoke with Iván Mendoza, the first member of the community's board of directors. The speech has had some adjustments with respect to the minutes of February. In the first place, given the fantastic amount, which invokes greed and delirium, he repeats to me more than once that “that is not the most important thing, that it is a starting point for negotiating.” Indeed , SPCC sources, told me that now there is talk of 2 billion, which they continue to describe as extortion. In a chat with Dionilde Flores, the president of the community, I asked her if this adjustment from 5 to 2 billion was true and she replied: “Regardless of the amount, what is sought is compensation for damage and land occupied for years.”

Here is another concept , which is not highlighted in the minutes of February 12 as a reason for the protest: reparation or compensation for socio-environmental damages. Mendoza told me, along the same lines, “we want the company to compensate us for so many years that have devastated and affected our land for agriculture.”However, the specific affectations do not appear on the surface in the speech of the leaders. In an explanatory video of the communal position, there is a list of 12 alleged damages, without hierarchy, which includes accumulation of clearings, spillage of tailings and emission of polluting dust, in addition to the construction of roads and the installation of high tension cables in the they consider their territory. I asked Jacob about these damages and he told me that the environmental authority, the OEFA, has not opened any files in this regard. Mendoza referred me to a complaint made by a community member, but the judicial result was not favorable to the plaintiff.

The devil dresses in copper. A chronicle of Fernando Live on the threats to Cuajone.

This is the list of environmental effects alleged by the community members in an explanatory video. Southern Peru replies that the environmental authority has not warned them about those.

I asked Mendoza if he had an explanation of how, after so much time, this intense awareness of the claim awoke in the community. “Oh, that's a good question” , he told me and, after some rambling about the past, he concluded: “our ancestors were afraid to complain”. I also asked if the community received advice or influence from outsiders. He told me no and, furthermore, that he did not know anyone from the fundamentalist Inkarri Islam movement or its leader Edwar Quiroga, who some Moquegua media mentioned as a possible influence. Inkarri Islam, based in Apurímac, has been detected in the neighboring conflict of Las Bambas, but we do not know precise information about his presence in Moquegua.

Mendoza told me that almost all the community members voted for Pedro Castillo, as in most rural communities in the south; but they are not related to the government. On the contrary, they are upset by the declaration of the state of emergency on April 20, which was the reason why they released the reservoir and withdrew until today. The leader was affiliated with the Nationalist Party for a few years and is now affiliated with Popular Action, although he claims he has no intention of running for anything. It is already enough work – this comment is not yours, but mine – to lead the expectation that your community has of handling whatever SPCC pays for the Ecoserv TPCT Communal Services Company fund. Escoserv, by the way, was formed with the advice of Anglo American, according to what is read on the page of that mining company. Anglo American owns Quellaveco, the mine even larger than Cuajone, which will soon start operations in the same area and district of Moquegua as Torata.

When I tell Mendoza that his claims have become increasingly complex, as they have gone from the property issue to environmental damage, he tells me by way of preliminary summary: “What we want is that after so many years , the company respects the community. If they don't want to recognize any compensation, then let them go and leave our land as it was.”This sarcasm cannot be completely abstracted from the vicinity of Quellaveco. This great project has been working for years on its communal relations prior to its implementation; while Cuajone was installed at a time when consultation and interaction with neighboring communities was neither customary nor mandated by law. Even Ecoserv already provides some services to Anglo American.

The devil dresses in copper. A chronicle by Fernando Vivas about the threats against Cuajone.

The Viña Blanca reservoir was damaged when it was recovered, according to Cuajone workers. (Photo: Cuajone Workers' Union).

In tune with modern mining, SPCC has a community relations area and I spoke with its manager Felipe Gonzales, who has developed 37 social programs to propose to the community members at the dialogue table; which include investments of around S/. 80 million in works for taxes and impact projects to expand education and health coverage. However, when evoking what happened between February and April and that threatens to repeat itself; It would seem that we are facing a sudden and distorted update of what was not done in the first decades, when the State granted mines without consultation and interaction with the communities being customary and mandated by law.

The 1894 map

To support the communal ownership of the land, the defense of the community members dates back to a plan from 1894, when their ancestors, during the government of Andres Avelino Cáceres, bought land from Blas Coayla. In 1929, a resolution of the government of Manuel Odría, recognizes boundaries that involve land currently used by mining and in 1993, in the Sunarp (public records) -I follow the account of a communal video- it was collected, with partial observations, a that demarcation. In 1987, with the mine already in operation, the first government of Alan García passed a law that facilitated the registration of communal properties, with the exception that easement rights for mining and other businesses were respected. .

In conclusion, for the community, the mine usurps his land and, as Mendoza told me, when the State speaks of easements, it only refers to the subsoil (this is a very peculiar interpretation of the concept, since easements refer, by definition, to rights of way and the like, for land others).

The devil dresses in copper. A chronicle of Fernando Live on the threats to Cuajone.

Note from Southern Peru Copper Corporation stating that the lands on which Cuajone operates were concessioned by the State.

I discussed this point with Jacob, and his story is simpler. The land does not belong to the SPCC but to the State and was concessioned as such before the minestarted operating in 1976. He provided me with a statement from the company in which they refer to a dialogue table on June 22 in which the representative of the General Directorate of Mining, Elvis de la Cruz, recognized the mining concessions of Southern and the easements granted by the State to build its facilities. Also, as I read in the statement, “The representative of the Regional Directorate of Agriculture, Elsa Pacora Mamani, revealed that in the documentary collection of Cofopri of 2011, there is no map of demarcation or titling in favor of the community”, that is, the map that is exhibited in the communal video. What does appear is “land with an extension of only 38,011 hectares, which is consistent with file 022 [the one from 1993 in Sunarp]”. In conclusion, SPCC, in Jacob's mouth, says that “there is no legal basis for the community's claim”.

The mess of property and demarcation has to be resolved by the State with the community and it may take time. Meanwhile, SPCC has made a counterproposal, which is an update of an offer that had already been made since 2017, which was close to materializing in 2019 and was shelved before the pandemic. What is it about? From the purchase of land that does coincide with the 1993 registration form and, therefore, is communal without a doubt. This purchase would come as a package with the commitment to carry out the 37 social programs that we already mentioned.

Now, the price that SPCC put for those lands in its purchase offer years ago was S/. 8 million, which provokes an ironic nuance in Iván Mendoza, when he mentions them after having talked about the $ 5 billion. But Raúl Jacob made it clear to me that the current counterproposal, made in response to the community's claim, is not based on amounts, but that its main weight lies in social programs. On the other hand, we learned that at the dialogue table the purchase offer rose to S/. 13 million and is limited to the land where the reservoir and the railway line are located, which, SPCC believes, would help put distance on the axes of the conflict. Regarding the purchase, Dionilde Flores is blunt in the chat: “The community does not consider selling land at any time”. Mendoza was more so in the conversation: “We don't want to sell or rent anything, we want compensation for so many years”.

I asked Mendoza why, if what they are looking for is a substantive contribution from the company for the good of the community, they don't focus on discussing amounts and social programs, without getting bogged down in the property issue. His answer had a breath of negotiation: “When we talk about 'compensation' for damages, the company doesn't want to use that name; Give it whatever name you want.”Jacob, with whom I briefly spoke again after speaking with Mendoza, insists that there is no legal reason for the company to make a direct economic contribution to the community, but he sees the purchase of land as an opportunity for the community members to satisfy that monetary expectation. They have sold land to Quellaveco before.

When I tell Jacob that the community has taken a position against the sale of land, he repeats that social programs are more important for the company, that more money and more impact are at stake there. He told me this anecdote: “Someone told me why they don't add the programs, convert it into an amount, and give it to the community; but it's not about that”. The company rejects this reasoning and the obligation to provide compensation that it considers has no legal basis, but it is willing to contribute on what Jacob calls “a basis of solidarity, which improves people's lives”. Between the community members' outright refusal to sell land and the company's outright refusal to accept an economic obligation outside a voluntary social package, there are margins of conciliation.

In the community there are 477 registered community members and around 850 inhabitants, a population of less than approximately 5,000, including workers, their families and independents who live in the Cuajone camp. The mine that produces 7% of national exports of copper and that, according to its own estimates, it has lost around S/.200 million due to the conflict; it has to be understood with a single community of less than a thousand inhabitants. It doesn't seem too difficult, but it is when the State is a carousel of unstable authorities.

The devil dresses in copper. A chronicle of Fernando Live on the threats to Cuajone.

The forced stoppage caused the unions of Southern Peru to claim the community members.

And what about the government?

The instability of the government and, especially, of the Ministry of Energy and Mines (Minem), complicated everything. On February 8, a few days before the outbreak, Aníbal Torres had been sworn in as Prime Minister, and Carlos Palacios, proposed by Vladimir Cerrón, as Minem Minister. Palacios replaced Eduardo González Toro, who had a chaotic management. The area of ​​social management of the Minem, broad and decentralized as mining commands, was devastated by the change of hands. Guillermo Bermejo, a friend of González Toro, had set up bases for his Voces del Pueblo party; and now Palacios dismantled that influence for the benefit of Peru Libre. In these circumstances, it was the social management area of ​​the PCM, which dealt with the conflict as best it could.

On March 16, after more than two weeks of paralysis, Prime Minister Aníbal Torres received SPCC officials who called for decisive action from the state to release the reservoir and the railway line. Torres was accompanied by Minister Palacios, Alfonso Chávarry of the Interior and Guillermo Bermejo. The group was concerned, more than the strike itself, that the SPCC executives told them about the fed up Cuajone union.and of the 6 other unions of the group in solidarity with it, who wanted to resolve the issue by force, as they feared the effects of the stoppage on their jobs. Thousands of workers against a few dozen community members who surrounded the reservoir on the heights, without a doubt, could free the land, but with a risk of fatalities that scared the company and the government. This edge of the conflict even caused Bermejo and Betssy Chávez, then Minister of Labor, to travel to the area to speak with workers and community members, but they could not reconcile them.

In one of the frequent marches and counter-marches of the government, on March 10 the company had obtained police support to recover the reservoir and managed to do so for a few hours. But the police received the order to withdraw and the community members returned to the charge. Only on April 20, with the declaration of a state of emergency, did the occupation end. “The government put a gun to our heads,” Iván Mendoza told me about that day.

The devil dresses in copper. A chronicle of Fernando Live on the threats to Cuajone.

The Cuajone facility includes facilities on land that the Tumilaca community claims as its own. But the authorities do not validate their possession documentation.

I have written to José Muro, the head of the social management area of ​​the PCM, but he does not answer my messages. I was able to speak briefly with Jesús Quispe, Deputy Minister of Governance, in whose sector the Muro area is located, and he told me that he felt that the dialogue tables were on the right track and even thought of presenting this negotiation experience at the next Perumin convention in September. After speaking with Raúl Jacob and with the community leaders, I cannot share the vice minister's optimism.

Jacob's fears about a return to the zero point of negotiation are justified. There was already a table, 12 hours, in which a series of agreements were reached. However, as usually happens when the leaders are not convinced of what was agreed, they asked for an additional day to consult the agreements in an assembly. This was done and the agreement was rejected. Last Sunday, according to what Mendoza told me, there was another assembly in which they ratified, in essence, the same pre-conflict claims.

The presence of lawyers such as the brothers Frank and Jorge Chávez Sotelo, experts in extortion maneuvers and who were arrested for it, has not been detected, as in one of the many conflicts in Las Bambas. The TPCT community members have two lawyers, independent from each other: Guido Maquera, from Moquegua, and Fredy Bernedo, from Tacna. Bernedo was a candidate for Congress for the UPP in the last contest, and he posts videos of his fiery but not incendiary interventions in defense of the community members on his Facebook.

We do not know if the astronomical amount of $5 billion came from the lawyers, from other shadowy actors or from the community members themselves. Divided between 850 inhabitants, it would be more than 5 million per head. More fantasy than greed. Although they now insist that it is only a starting point, the excess has lent itself to stigmatize their complex claims and receive the resounding rejection of SPCC. Added to the long episode of the taking of the reservoir; the conflict threatens to become chronic as in Las Bambas. An imperative reason for the government to keep the company and the community at the table, prevent someone from kicking it, and urge them to reach a decent agreement.