Peru government taps armed forces to unblock copper protests

LIMA (Reuters) - The Peruvian government on Wednesday authorized the intervention of the armed forces and police to unblock access to one of the country’s largest copper mines, after owner Chinese miner MMG Ltd said it may have to cease production at the site.

The decree, published in official newspaper El Peruano, declared a state of emergency for 30 days in an Andean area where residents have been blocking a road used by the mining company to transport concentrates for almost four weeks.

The measure involves suspending the right to free transit and to hold public meetings in various locations in the Andean province of Chumbivilcas in the region of Cusco, a key mining area in the Peru, the world’s no. 2 copper producer.

The MMG-owned Las Bambas mine is close to having to halt production, a senior local executive told Reuters last week, adding the firm was evaluating declaring “force majeure” on sales because stocks were running out.

“The roads will be reopened because it is a mandate of the @PoliciaPeru. We are committed to dialogue, but that cannot be confused with weakness. We will fulfill our function,” Interior Minister Carlos Moran said in a post on Twitter on Wednesday.

Las Bambas, which accounts for 16% of Peru’s entire copper output, had targeted between 385,000 tonnes and 405,000 tonnes of copper production this year, versus 385,000 tonnes in 2018.

The unrest has affected shipments from four mines that produce about half of Peru’s copper - Freeport-McMoRan Inc’s Cerro Verde, Las Bambas, Glencore PLC’s Antapaccay and Hudbay Mineral’s Constancia.

Copper accounts for 60% of Peru’s total exports, and is the main driver of the South American nation’s economy.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Toby Chopra