The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently declared the petition admissible against the Peruvian State for committing human rights abuses against the residents of the mining city of La Oroya, located in Central Peru. The suit alleges that the government allowed environmental contamination caused by the emission of gases and other derivatives from activities from mining companies located in the area. The action by the IACHR takes the issue one step further towards presenting a formal case in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights located in San José, Costa Rica.
Many Peruvians wonder why this news was not published in many of the major national newspapers, and note that the previous presidential announcement about the “realistic solution” between the government and the miners, primarily from Doe Run, had more coverage. There are others who wonder whether the Peruvian press vetoes certain topics. However, there is always the internet to find alternative information with commentary and analysis about the implications of the IACHR's decision.
The news of this ruling has made it onto websites of Peruvian organizations concerned with environmental policy and human rights, such as the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law (SPDA for its initials in Spanish), which published the news of the admitted petition on its website. As early as 2007, the IACHR had asked the Peruvian government to take precautionary measures to protect the residents of La Oroya from contamination [es], as noted by the “Runamasinchipaq” Human Rights Association (Adehr for its initials in Spanish).
This topic has been ongoing and has been written about in blogs for the past several years. Godofredo Arauzo of the blog Perú y Medio Ambiente [es] (Peru and the Environment) commented in 2007 about the petition to take precautionary measures in the region: “Our country's environment is more neglected and abandoned than a child orphaned from a father, mother and family.” Another past post comes Miguel Angel Valladares of the blog Mkv [es], who states that the air in La Oroyo is full of lead.
In the blog Derecho Ambiental [es] (Environmental Law), Iván Lanegra also comments about the precautionary measures:
Sin duda, este hecho, sumado a la sanción impuesta por OSINERGMIN hace algunas semanas y la posición firme que las autoridades locales y regionales vienen mostrando, generan un escenario diferente al que se ha vivido durante muchos años respecto de este caso, por lo que se abren posibilidades reales de alcanzar soluciones efectivas al problema de la contaminación ambiental de La Oroya. Esto es especialmente significativo cuando nos encontramos cerca de celebrar el décimo aniversario de la presencia de DOE RUN PERU en la operación del Complejo Metalúrgico de La Oroya.
However, the mining industry is often the only thing that keeps these towns alive. Recently, the company Doe Run suspended its activities due to financial difficulties, and it has not been able to complete the environmental requirements. As a result, many residents are faced with protesting so that the mine re-opens, regardless of evidence of contamination affecting the community. Diana Horqque of the blog Hacker Moi Belle Kotoshi [es] writes about a conversation with a resident of La Oroya:
¿Están polarizadas las cosas en La Oroya?
Ciertamente lo están. Y una situación así es insostenible. Entre dos espadas que amenazan mi vida
¿Quién es el principal responsable de la contaminación en La Oroya?
La fundición señorita, la fundición… pero yo trabajo ahí. En la empresa me han dado de todo, ahí recibo mi sueldo, también ayudan al colegio de mis hijos; tengo facilidades en el hospital; y además, la empresa, ha hecho bastantes cosas por la ciudad. En las Navidades nos hacen las actividades con chocolatada y dan los uniformes para los partidos de fútbol con los demás trabajadores, señorita. Ustedes lo que quieren es cerrar la empresa. Además, si cierran la empresa, ¿A donde me voy? ¿A Jauja, a Cerro de Pasco, a Huancayo? ¿A donde señorita? Si aquí esta mi familia, aquí está mi historia de vida, mis hijos están creciendo aquí.
Pero señor, ¿sabe acaso usted que tener 5 gramos de plomo por decilitro en la sangre es altamente peligroso y que, según el estudio “Niveles de plomo sanguíneo en recién nacidos de La Oroya” , el 75,3% de los niños recién nacidos en la ciudad tienen entre 6 y 10 gramos de plomo en cada decilitro de sangre. Y que encima el 24,7% de los recién nacidos tienen más de 10 gramos de plomo en cada decilitro de sangre?
Are things polarized in La Oroya?
Of course they are. And it is an unsustainable situation. Between two swords that threaten my life.
Who is primarily responsible for the contamination in La Oroya?
The foundry, miss, the foundry …. but I work there. In the company the gave me everything, I receive my salary there, they also help with my children's school; I have access to health care at the hospital; and above all, the company has done a lot for the city. During Christmastime they provide chocolate and provide the uniforms for the football matches with the workers, miss. What you want is to close the company. If they close the company, where will I go? To Jauja, to Cerro de Pasco, to Huancayo? Where, miss? If my family is here, and here is my life's story, my children are growing up there.
But sir, don't you know that if one has 5 grams of lead per deciliter in one's blood, it is very dangerous, and according to the study “Levels of lead in the blood among newborns in La Oroya,  that 75.3% of newborns have between 6-10 grams of lead in each deciliter of blood. On top of that, 24.7% of newborns have 10 grams of lead per deciliter of blood?
It is expected that the government and the workers of Doe Run to resume negotiations to see if the deadline to fulfill the requirements of the PAMA (Environmental Suitability Program) so that the mine can continue its normal activities. Nevertheless, the workers have announced a strike for August 31.
Carlos Quiroz of Peruanista writes that the situation in La Oroya “seems to be worsening”:
According to AP, Workers at the smelter said [today] that they will erect blockades in the Junin region starting August 31 to demand the government give the company more time to complete a mandatory cleanup, which could pave the way for a restart of operations. ” The workers in this case are being used by Doe Run Peru who threaten them with massive lost of jobs.
The La Oroya case is another example of what happens when weak governments in dependant countries allow private corporations -especially foreign- to do what they please. This is done in the name of free market and corporate minded development recipes, imposed by rich countries in poorer nations mostly located in Latin America and Africa.
Other links include the blog of Corey Laplante, who spent 9 months in La Oroya investigating this issue, as well as Kristian Andersen's blog with photos of La Oroya. There are also YouTube videos about the environmental contamination.