Fires hit two key copper projects in Peru amid protests

Protests at Las Bambas. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Two fires broke out at key copper projects in Peru, sources told Reuters, hitting MMG Ltd’s Las Bambas copper mine and Southern Copper Corp’s planned Los Chancas project, amid escalating local protests.

Peru, the world’s No. 2 copper producer, is suffering increasingly violent community protests against mines in recent months, as communities demand higher benefits from the industry and prices for the red metal remain high.

The situation is especially challenging for MMG and Southern Copper.

Las Bambas is one of the world’s largest copper mines, and operations have been halted since April 20 due to a protest by the indigenous Huancuire community that has settled inside company property.

Southern Copper suspended operations earlier this year for over 50 days at its Cuajone mine, as neighboring residents demanded a share of company profits, shutting the mine’s water supply in protest.

The administration led by left-wing President Pedro Castillo has struggled to appease mining protesters since taking office last July. Castillo was elected with massive support in mining regions amid pledges to better redistribute mining profits.

Both projects hit by fires on Tuesday are located in Peru’s Apurimac region, whose economy is heavily dependent on mining.

A government source confirmed the fire at Los Chancas, a $2.6 billion project that has yet to be built. The source said the fire was caused by artisanal miners who have already been extracting copper in the area and are opposing the construction of the new mine.

A Southern Copper representative had no immediate comment.

The fire at Las Bambas was confirmed by a source close to the company.

Huancuire and Las Bambas said injuries had been sustained during a clash on Tuesday with police. It was unclear if any injuries took place at Los Chancas or due to the fires.

Alexander Anglas, a lawyer for the Huancuire community, said it had not caused the fire but remained inside company property following a clash with police on Tuesday.

In a statement, Las Bambas said Huancuire members had “caused damages to goods and other infrastructure” after mine personnel, escorted by police, sought to enter the settlement area.

(By Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)

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