Thursday, December 20, 2012

When Beijing Comes Calling

The people of Morococha situated on a Peruvian hill called Toromocho aren't much to speak of.  Morococha is a shanty town for its 5,000 inhabitants or at least it was until Chinalco, the Aluminum Corporation of China, got a 35-year deal to mine the hell out of their mountain.

Chinalco, a "SOE" or state owned enterprise of the Communist Chinese government, figures it can get $50-billion worth of copper, silver and molybdenum out of Toromocho but the people of Morococha have to scram.

Despite a huge effort by the Chinese to build a new town six miles down the road, locals are sceptical. Last month, police ejected dozens of residents from a roadblock on Peru's central highway, which passes the town.

"All this move has created is fights and divisions," said Aina Calderón, a 67-year-old lifelong Morococha resident. "The company doesn't respect that some of us don't want to leave."

Razing a 4,000-metre mountain or building a town from scratch: it's hard to say which is the more remarkable feat about this endeavour, which better epitomises the good and bad aspects of the booming world. The Chinese mining giant Chinalco will start scraping the landscape next year, having bought the land for $860m and invested $2.2bn in the mine. The old town will be swallowed up by the opencast mine's crater, from which will be extracted 1m tonnes of copper, 10,000 tonnes of molybdenum and 4m ounces of silver every year for 35 years.

To its credit, Chinalco has built what sounds like a well thought out town for the people of Morococha.

Company officials say it is the most planned town in Peru. Carhuacoto has street lighting, green areas, a modern sewage system and a state-of-the-art waste-water treatment plant. It has a canal built to prevent the town being flooded if a nearby dyke collapses in an earthquake. It also has a police station, a health clinic, spacious, well-equipped primary and secondary schools and, rather amazingly, seven churches, to cater for faiths ranging from Roman Catholicism to Jehovah's Witnesses. The only thing it lacks, so far, is people.

Still, an $860-million return on $50-billion in mineral resources does sound pretty cheap.   Yet for the villagers their opposition seems based more on their demand for jobs than on relocation.

1 comment:

tahir sumar said...
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