Las Bambas protests could halt copper production

China Minmetals’ Las Bambas mine in Peru.

Copper bulls might be tempted to place buy orders after a protest at a Peruvian mine turned ugly about 10 days ago.

That’s because supplies needed to allow Las Bambas, one of the world’s largest copper mines, to keep operating are running out because access roads are being blocked by protesters following a death on Oct. 14. The mine just came online this year.

“Community roads are currently blocked and supplies for operating and subsisting are about to run out,” mine owner MMG’s CEO Andrew Michelmore said in a statement e-mailed to Reuters. “We now have large reserves that cannot be transported by road, a situation that cannot go on for much longer.”

The several thousand protesters are demanding that Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski attend the scene in the highland province of Challhuahuacho.

The group is protesting against the ongoing noise and high levels of dust close to the road used by trucks that carry the Chinese-owned mine’s copper concentrates. The protests led to clashes with police that culminated in one of the protesters being shot by police.

Interior Minister Carlos Basombrío said the victim died from a bullet wound to the head, presumably fired by Peruvian police while they attempted to disperse more than 200 protesters who had blocked an access road to the mine, the country’s largest copper operation.

The government has now launched an internal probe to determine who authorized police intervention, local paper La República reports (in Spanish).

Las Bambas produced 35,000 tonnes of the red metal in August, or almost a fifth of Peru’s overall output, official data shows. The operation is set to deliver 400,000 tonnes of copper per year during the first five years of production.