Three lawyers representing indigenous villagers who have blocked shipments from the Las Bambas copper mine in Peru were sentenced to three years in jail on charges that they manipulated the villagers into blocking a road used by Las Bambas to extort mine owner MMG ltd.
Reuters reported that the ruling, which a lead prosecutor confirmed on television news channels, promises to further polarize a dispute between MMG and the Quechua-speaking village of Fuerabamba, in Peru’s southern copper belt.
Villagers have demanded that their lawyers be freed before talking with the government about lifting their blockades of two roads that have cut off access to the Las Bambas Mine, halting its exports.
“I hope that the community understands we’re not against them. We’re against crime,” prosecutor Jorge Chavez Cotrina said in comments broadcast on local TV channel RPP. “They can ask for whatever they want. But we have to act according to the law.”
The prosecution argued the lawyers - the brothers Jorge and Frank Chavez, and Carlos Vargas - had manipulated Fuerabamba villagers into blocking a road used by Las Bambas to extort MMG, and must be held in jail because they are a flight risk.
Kevin Pena, the attorney for the three men, denied the accusations and said their due process was being violated.
Fuerabamba villagers have repeatedly denied that they were manipulated by the lawyers, saying they fairly represented them in their claim for compensation from MMG for transporting its copper concentrates on a road that passes through the community’s farmland.
At the end of a three-day hearing in the regional capital of Cusco, Judge Patricia Valencia granted the prosecution’s request to order the lawyers to 36 months in pre-trial detention while prosecutors prepare charges against them.
Las Bambas, MMG’s flagship mine, is one of Peru’s biggest copper producers, churning out about 400 kt/a (440,000 stpy) in copper, or about 2 percent of global supply.
Production at Las Bambas “continues at progressively reduced rates,” the company said in an emailed statement from its headquarters in Australia. “The situation at the site remains unchanged, inbound and outbound logistics are suspended.”
MMG is controlled by state-owned China Minmetals.