LIMA (Reuters) – Hundreds of workers from a massive copper mine took to the streets of Peru’s capital on Tuesday, waving flags and chanting slogans that demand the government find a solution to a grinding conflict that has temporarily shuttered the project.
The conflict over the Las Bambas mine, one of the world’s biggest sources of copper and a large contributor to government coffers, has spurred growing uncertainty over the South American country’s key mining sector.
The protesting workers snaked through Lima’s downtown as they approached the Congress, worried they might lose their jobs if the conflict is not resolved soon.
“As workers, our fear is that (Las Bambas) contractors will start firing people,” said Erick Ramos, a union official who attended the march. “If we don’t work, they won’t pay us.”
The government declared a state of emergency in the area near the mine on April 27, about two weeks after anti-mine protesters from two local indigenous communities camped out on the property of the mine, which is owned by China’s MMG Ltd.
The protesters argue the mine has not fully honored its past commitments.
The emergency declaration suspended the right to assemble and protest, but government efforts to forcibly remove the protesters have proved unsuccessful. Meanwhile, leaders of the Fuerabamba and Huancuire communities have said they will not attend government-sponsored talks until the emergency order has been lifted.
Peru is the world’s second-largest copper producer and Las Bambas alone accounts for 2% of global supply of the red metal.
Some workers wearing mining uniforms directed their ire at President Pedro Castillo, shouting “Castillo, listen, resolve the conflicts!”
The unrest dates back to shortly after Las Bambas launched operations in 2016, with locals blocking key roads. But the conflict has escalated as the company was forced to shut down the lucrative asset late last month.
“This affects us economically,” said worker Jorge Montoya.
(Reporting by Anthony Marina; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Marco Aquino and Alistair Bell)