Indigenous Groups Blockade Peruvian Mines

Peru's leftist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo, pictured June 25, 2021, took a majority of votes according to the unconfirmed count

An indigenous group said on Wednesday it will “indefinitely” block a key mining road in the Espinar province of Peru until its demands are met. Peruvian President Pedro Castillo quickly sacked his prime minister in response to the blockade, while his government announced a deal to satisfy another indigenous group that has been blocking a Chinese-owned mine.

The group in Espinar apparently decided to shut down its mining road after Castillo’s government announced a deal with the Chumbivilcas, an indigenous group that began blocking a mine owned by China’s MMG corporation in September.

The deal struck with Chumbivilcas leaders in Lima reportedly includes more jobs for the community, including mineral transportation contracts, and more compensation for land around the mine. The indigenous community also demanded a halt to “short-sighted” trucking practices that damaged local crops by driving heavy vehicles over dirt roads, a problem Peru’s mining minister proposed addressing with a new rail line.

Peru is the world’s number two source of copper after Chile, and MMG’s huge La Bambas mine supplies about two percent of the world’s copper demand by itself.

The indigenous community in Espinar is using similar tactics to extract concessions from Glencore PLC, the Switzerland-based company that runs the Antapaccay mine.

Espinar community leader Flavio Huanque said on Wednesday the vital “mining corridor” road leading to Antapaccay would be blocked “indefinitely” to protest the mine’s environmental impact and the Peruvian government’s neglect of the local community. The road blockage could affect MMG’s Las Bambas mine as well.

Huanque and his associates may have scored a quick victory, as one of their demands was for Prime Minister Guido Bellido to resign, and he did so within a matter of hours.

Bellido was appointed only two months ago, and it seems clear he was forced out of his job, since he announced his resignation by tweeting a picture of himself as Russel Crowe’s title character in Gladiator lunging into battle with sword and shield.

“We go back into the arena where we belong,” Bellido wrote, presumably imagining President Castillo as the guy about to receive the business end of Maximus’ sword.

As Reuters pointed out, Castillo, Bellido, and Bellido’s replacement Mirtha Vasquez are all Marxist-Leninists, but Bellido was furthest to the Left, with a belligerent style and a ravenous appetite to nationalize Peruvian industry.

Vasquez is a lawyer noted for defending a peasant farmer against a mining company, which seems like a signal that the indigenous protests against the mining industry played some role in Bellido’s ouster, perhaps as the last straw. Huanque blasted Bellido for displaying “an absolute lack of knowledge about the problems regarding the indigenous communities of Espinar” during a visit to the area in September.

Copper prices rose significantly on international exchanges Thursday in response to possible supply disruptions from Peru. Nasdaq analysts noted the increases could have been worse, but the world’s top consumer of copper, China, is closed for a public holiday until Friday.


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