Anglo-American failed to implement rudimentary health measures

Thousands of miners at Peru’s Quellaveco mine in Moquegua’s southern area went on strike on Tuesday to protest the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in the mining camps and the inability of the Anglo-American mining business and its contractors to follow even rudimentary health measures.


Employees of Peruvian mining engineering business Cumbra were the first to stage a sit-in, quickly spreading across the camp.

The failure of the mine owners to remove and isolate people afflicted with COVID is illegal under situations where mine employees sleep four or five to a room.  Buses have taken hundreds of ill employees to a nearby bus station, where they’ve been discarded, spreading the infection among the local populace and their families, especially those who haven’t been vaccinated.  Residents in the region have taken to the streets to oppose this.

Miners say they were made to sign documents stating that they would not hold their employers accountable for COVID fatalities and illnesses at the site.  Affected workers should be separated and checked often until they return to work without losing their jobs or pay.

The Unchecked COVID-19 epidemic in Peru is being fuelled by Omicron variation, prompting miners’ outcry.  According to official data, the virus has already claimed the lives of 203,750 people in Peru, making it the nation with the most significant death rate per capita in the world.

Moquegua is one of 18 countries where new infections have just surpassed the epidemic’s second wave.  As a result of increased patient traffic and a rising number of medical staff becoming sick with the virus, hospitals in Peru are in danger of closing.  Last Wednesday, President Pedro Castillo’s administration declared that the public health state of emergency, which was supposed to expire on March 1 of this year, will be extended by an additional 180 days.  The country’s health minister Hernando Cevallos was absent from the meeting due to complications from COVID, but the decision was made under his influence.

The government is pressing through with its plans to send children back to school in March and has refused to adopt any steps that would impede their ability to extract minerals from the country’s natural resources.  President Pedro Castillo’s purportedly “leftist” administration has taken the same vaccine-only approach to the pandemic as its predecessors, ensuring that all economic activity is unaffected by the outbreak.

At the onset of the epidemic, Peru’s government designated mining as an “important industry,” which allowed the spread of sickness and mortality among workers and the poor Andean mining districts.  A challenge to the murderous indifference of Anglo-American and other businesses to the lives and health of Peruvian employees is being raised by the Quellaveco miners’ strike.  The Castillo government’s whole approach is at odds with this since it relies on increasing output and high commodity prices to produce larger tax revenues, which may be utilized to prevent a social explosion.

By 2021, tax revenue from the mining sector is expected to rise by 60% to 6.6 billion soles ($1.67 billion), up from 1.11 billion last year.  As a result of greater output and higher pricing, copper miners and other business members are seeing a rise in their profit margins.  First, Castillo disavowed any pretension of nationalizing Peru’s wealthy extractive industry.  The conservatives in Peru’s Congress are still working to remove him from office, although he has made a few modest suggestions to raise mining revenues’ tax rates.

Instead of advocating for more government regulation of the mining industry, Castillo has instead turned his focus to securing mining companies’ “social and environmental commitment” and ensuring that mines provide “social profitability.”  Castillo’s administration seeks to halt demonstrations by peasant communities over pollution from mining that has impeded output at many pits, most notably the massive Las Bambas mine operated by the Chinese business MMG.

Capitalism relies on the Quellaveco mining project to get the job done.  At an end-of-year news conference, Castillo’s finance minister Pedro Francke said that the $5.5 billion projects would begin production in the second quarter of 2022, with a predicted output of 300,000 tons of copper ore yearly.  The government hopes the initiative would renew $50 billion worth of mining projects halted during the outbreak.  Copper and other minerals may be mined more cheaply in Peru than in Chile, which is why the country’s mining corporations are interested in investing there.

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