31 January 2011
A mining company in Peru part-owned by a British FTSE 100 company agitated for the removal of teachers and Catholic bishops to new posts away from “conflictive mining communities”, according to a leaked US cable obtained via WikiLeaks.
An executive of the company, in which BHP Billiton has a one-third stake, urged diplomats to persuade the Peruvian government and church to “rotate” such professionals out of sensitive areas, the secret document said.
The US and Canadian ambassadors, who hosted a summit of foreign mining executives in Peru in August 2005, requested specific examples of “anti-mining” teachers and bishops “who engage in inappropriate activities” to take to government and church leaders, the cable claimed.
The US embassy reported in another cable that the role of the church in the protests – mostly involving local indigenous communities – was “controversial and still open to question”.
The cable also claims mining companies were said to feed information to the US embassy about the activities of drug traffickers in northern Peru.
The Majaz open cast mine, owned by British company Monterrico Metals and site of one of the bloodiest protests shortly before the summit, was said by company representatives to lie “along a foot track used by couriers who convey opium latex to Ecuador,” reported the same cable.
“We are working with both the police and company representatives to further develop the information they have,” the cable said. But it added that in the past there had been instances where unnamed non-US companies falsely claimed that drugs traffickers were co-ordinating protests to “enlist our [US government] assistance”.
Police shot three protesters at the Majaz mine protest, one of whom died. Protesters have issued proceedings in the high court in London against Monterrico Metals relating to the alleged “torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and false imprisonment” of demonstrators by police.
The company, which was taken over by Chinese gold mining firm Zijin in 2007, has vigorously denied any involvement in the alleged abuses at the mine and said it considers “allegations to the contrary made by the claimants to be wholly without merit”. The case is listed for trial in October.
Following the Majaz protest, the Peruvian president launched a crackdown on anti-mining demonstrations and promised to protect foreign mining investments in the country, the world’s third largest copper producer.
At the summit, the first cable reports the US ambassador also encouraged the mining companies to provide examples of NGOs or individuals advocating violence against them.
“Armed with this information, ambassadors would be able to confront any NGOs from their respective countries about such dangerous activities,” reported the cable.
An executive from Anglo American’s Minera Quellaveco reportedly blamed Oxfam America and Friends of the Earth for largely “fomenting anti-mining attitudes” at the meeting, it was alleged.
A spokesman for Oxfam America said that while such NGOs tried to make sure companies treated communities “justly”, they only did so through legal channels and never advocated violence.
Antamina is Peru’s second largest copper producer and is 33.75% owned by Anglo-Australian multinational BHP Billiton. Swiss-based miner Xstrata took a 33.75% stake in 2006, with the remainder owned by Japan’s Mitsubishi and Canada’s Teck.
The cable reports: “The Antamina executive recommended that the diplomats meet as a group with the education ministry to encourage a rotation of teachers – often members of the radical SUTEP teachers union and Patria Roja [a left wing political group] – in conflictive mining communities.
“He also suggested that the embassies urge the Catholic church to rotate bishops operating in these regions. The ambassadors agreed to consider this, but needed specific examples of anti-mining teachers and priests who engage in inappropriate activities.”
Antamina said: “The statements attributed to a former employee do not express Antamina’s policies or values either today or when the remarks were supposedly made. Antamina operates under a rigorous code of conduct, and works with its communities and local institutions in a spirit of collaboration and respect.”
BHP said it did not operate the Antamina business but added: “BHP Billiton encourages all the companies with which it partners, including joint ventures like Antamina that are not under BHP Billiton control, to adopt its principles of business conduct.”
Anglo American said it “enjoys strong and constructive relationships with a large number of NGO partners around the world, including in Peru where our social investment initiatives are a significant focus as we progress our two multibillion dollar copper projects, Quellaveco and Michiquillay”.