A Proposed Mine in Tambogrande, Peru: An Alternative Look

The proposed Tambo Grande mining project in northern Peru offers a stark illustration of the problems associated with large-scale mining operations in an era of deregulation and globalization. The town of Tambogrande is poor, isolated and in the heart of Peru's "El Niño" zone. It sits directly atop a major gold, zinc and copper deposit that Manhattan Minerals, a small Canadian mining multinational, is seeking to develop into an open-pit mine. Projected impacts of the mine could be severe. Construction of the mine would require the relocation of an estimated 8,000 inhabitants of a total population of between 14,000 and 16,000 people and the diversion of a local river. The project could also have significant impacts on agricultural production in the area. Tambogrande farmers are Peru's principal mango exporters and the area has become one of Peru's leading agricultural centers thanks to major investment in irrigation systems, some of it provided by the World Bank.

Concerned by the proposed relocation and by threats to their agriculturally based livelihoods, local populations have mounted significant resistance to the project. On February 27 and 28, 2001, an estimated 10,000 people participated in blocking road access to the exploration site. A recent initiative collected approximately 28,000 notarized signatures of individuals in the Tambogrande district, of approximately 37,000 eligible voters, who are opposed to the mine. Tambogrande's Mayor and local Archbishop have called for the project not to go forward, citing not only the potential environmental impacts, but the mine's
disruptive social impacts, already evident in the exploration phase due to the tense environment of distrust and conflict that exists in the area. The archbishop has called the project "socially unviable." These actions represent significant opposition to the proposed mine by affected citizens and community leaders.

Manhattan Minerals, a mining "junior" with no previous experience operating a mine of this size, and no other current projects, rode into Peru on the wave of the country’s recent mining boom. With the privatization of Peru's mining sector in the early 1990s, foreign investment in the sector has exploded over the past decade. From 1992 to 1997, the volume of mining operations in Peru tripled from 30,000 to 100,000 metric tons of minerals per day. Land area devoted to exploration and extraction increased from 4 million to 18 million hectares between 1992 and 1998. According to the Financial Times, Peru has had South America's highest rate of exploration success in recent years, driving Latin America's emergence as the most popular continent for new mining projects. The Tambo Grande project is located in the department of Piura, a department that up until now has not been known for mining, but rather agriculture. Manhattan's operation may open the door to the exploitation of hundreds of thousands of hectares currently under concession in Piura. The impact on traditional agricultural livelihoods, from which the vast majority of Piurans draw sustenance and income, could be significant.

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