Antamina from Peru to start formal talks with protesters to find ‘middle ground’

AQUIA, Peru, November 5 (Reuters) – The head of Antamina, Peru’s largest copper producer, sought to defuse tensions with protesters in rural communities on Friday, speaking to residents at a local meeting after a blockade forced the mining company to suspend operations last week.

Victor Gobitz, director of Antamina, partly owned by Glencore Plc (GLEN.L) and BHP Billiton (BHP.AX), told residents at a town hall meeting in Aquia attended by Reuters that the two sides could find common ground, a strong move from an earlier critical tone.

Gobitz told reporters after the event that the two sides agreed to start formal talks from Monday.

“With orderly dialogue, we will find the formula for a development plan for the whole city of Aquia,” Gobitz said at the meeting, which was held in the city’s bullfighting arena. “We have to lead by example to find common ground.”

The tone was a marked change for Gobitz, who initially dismissed the protesters as violent and only representative of a minority of voices.

Protests against miners in Peru, the world’s second largest copper producer, have intensified in recent weeks amid high expectations from rural communities emboldened by the socialist administration of center-left President Pedro Castillo.

Castillo, who came from peasant farming, came to power in July with massive support from mining regions, promising to raise taxes on miners to promote local development.

The community of Aquia, located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Antamina, had blocked a key mine road in late October, before agreeing to lift the blockade after government talks earlier this week. Read more

Locals say the area receives few tax contributions from the mine, although the company has a copper pipeline and a road through the town.

“We are not launching a social crisis,” Aquia chairman Adan Damian said in remarks in response to Gobitz. “I have mixed feelings that after protesting so much, we are finally heard.”

Gobitz said Antamina would withdraw criminal allegations against Aquia leaders and nearby residents made before the protests and would work to provide cell phone towers to the city. He shook hands with local leaders at the meeting.

In his remarks to reporters after the event, Gobitz declined to say how much copper production was lost due to the protests, although he said Antamina had not yet restarted at 100% capacity and that it was not clear when this could be achieved.

The CEO reiterated his previous claim that some acts of protest had been violent, but said the company was drawing a line below that.

“We are leaving that behind,” he said.

Report by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Adam Jourdan, Marguerita Choy and Steve Orlofsky

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