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Fr. Seán McDonagh
I spent much of September 2008 visiting my Columban colleagues in Peru. I had been invited to give some presentations on Creation Theology and to witness how environmental awareness and concrete initiatives was growing in Latin America.
The most important breakthrough on this front took place at the Latin American Bishops’ (CELAM) meeting in Aparecida in Brazil in 2007. At that meeting the bishops were presented with evidence from Peru, Guatemala and Honduras, that Canadian, Australian and U. S. companies were extracting mineral resources without paying attention to the negative social or environmental impacts of mining. Some bishops such as Bishop Erwin Krautler of Xingu, Brazil had received death threats because of their support for communities opposed to mining. At the Aparacida meeting he made an impassioned to stop the destruction of the rainforest by soya farmers and cattle ranchers. Others, such as Archbishop Pedro Barreto of Huancayo in Peru, have taken concrete steps to research the impact of mining on the health of the people in his diocese in an effort to protect human health and the environment, often without the full backing of their national hierarchies. For this reason, the Aparecida Document’s clear statement in defense of life and creation is vitally important. The bishops criticized the “excessive eagerness for riches, above human life, communities and nature itself.”
According to the Declaration, “Mother Earth is our common home, the place of the alliance of God and human beings and all of Creation. Therefore, destroying it is a sin.” For this reason it questions directly the exploitation of metal mining: “we must be alert to extractive industries that eliminate forests, contaminate the water and convert the exploited zones into immense deserts,” declared the document.
High commodity prices have increased the price of metals, thus fuelling the current mining boom in Peru. Gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, and molybdenum have all increased by 300% to 500% in the past five years. The price of coal has doubled since March 2008. China and India have now joined other First World countries in bidding for precious resources in every corner of the globe, increasing further the price of all metals and energy resources. (One can expect that the price will drop if the global economy slides into a depression).
As mineral prices rose, the lust for riches that motivated the original conquest of Peru, drew scores of transnational companies and individual miners to intensify mining pressure on every ecosystem in Peru, from the Andes to the Pacific to the Amazon rainforest. By mid-2008, in a survey carried out by the Canada-based Fraser Institute, Peru had climbed from 52nd to the 28th position in an international study on competitiveness in the global mining business. It had surpassed former mining giants such as Brazil, Argentina, Russia and South Africa.
Will mining bring a better life to the poor?
The mining lobby has presented the boom as an opportunity for developing countries to increase their income. In an effort to attract investment during the administration of President Alberto Fujimoro (1990 – 2000), mining companies were often not required to pay royalties. For this reason, according to the Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines, 25 of the 27 large mining companies operating in Peru did not pay royalties on their profits from mining in 2007. In 2005 alone, the income from the mining sector was worth US$10 billion, even though the government had reduced royalties. During canvassing for the presidency in the run up to the 2006 election, Alan Garcia promised to renegotiate these stability contracts if elected president. Once elected, he renegade on his promise, claiming that it would be impossible to do so as foreign companies could sue the Peruvian State. As a compromise the mining companies were supposed to come up with a “voluntary contribution” of $172 million during the five years of his presidency, if the price of metals remained high. Many economists believe that the decision to forgo royalties was a huge mistake. Using official data, studies have shown that the government forfeited US$379 billion in royalties from large mining corporations. According to the Grupo Popuesta Ciudadana, a coalition of local NGO, the Peruvian government saw its tax revenues shrink by nearly US$2.7 billion in 2006 and 2007. For example, Volcan, a Peruvian mining firm, benefitted from this tax regime. Its earnings soared from US$24 million to US$449 million. Despite the reduction in royalties paid to the government, mining accounted for nearly 60% of the country’s export revenue. Since becoming president, Garcia has vigorously
promoted the mining industry by framing the debate over environmental issues as a choice between economic development and environmental protection. He has labelled environmentalists as recycled communists, which is highly inflammatory in a country that suffered so much from the Marxists guerrillas in the Sendero Luminoso, during the 1980s and 1990s.
Social and environmental costs of mining. Writing in the conservative paper, La Republica, on July 1st 2007, the economist, Pedro Francke, stated that the managers of some of Peru’s mining corporations receive 120,000 soles each month. This would allow them to buy a house every three months. One mining executive earns more than 200 workers.1 LatinAmericapress. (October 18th 2006), acknowledges that, while some have become rich, the social and environmental costs have been huge. The Ombudsman’s Office, claims that seven of the ten pending social conflicts in Peru reported in that year were linked to disputes involving mining companies and groups campaigning to protect the environment.
Reports of water and air pollution have become the norm in communities adjacent to mining operations. “The mining sector is also contaminating underground water supplies, especially with heavy metal (copper, zinc, lead, cadmium, silver, arsenic and magnesium) contaminates,” says the National Environmental Fund, or FONAM, a private institution that promotes public and private investment in environmental development projects for Peru . “It is estimated that mining and metallurgical activities together discharge more
Pedro Francke, “The New Owners of Peru,” La Republica, July 1st 2007. 4
than 13 trillion cubic metres of effluent into the country’s bodies of water annually.”2
Comparisons with other Latin American Countries and Globally
The mining sector is Peru is huge by Latin American and even global standards. In the production of tin and zinc, Peru is number one in Latin America and number three in the world. For lead, Peru is first in Latin America and fourth in the world. For gold, it is first in Latin America and fifth in the world. For silver, it is second in Latin America and second in the world. Finally, for copper, it is second in Latin America and fourth in the world. 3
La Oroya, a mining and smelting city in the Peruvian Andes, which is situated in Archbishop Pedro Baretto’s diocese, is according to the respected Blacksmith Institute, one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world. 4 Over 35,000 people live there and the vast majority of people, especially children have high levels of lead, cadmium and mercury in their blood. Mining and smelting have been carried out there since 1922. The city is dominated by the smelter and all that goes with it, huge truck and railway carriages carrying ore to and from the smelter. The municipality looks cleaner and more orderly than the average Andean town, as the pollution is almost invisible. It is in the air, where micro particles of lead, sulphur, arsenic,
Ibis Liulla “Water and mining: tensions in development,” Latinamercapress, October 18th 2006, page 6. 3 National Mining, Oil and Energy Society, in Latinamericapress, October 19th 2006, page 7. 4 www.blacksmithinstitute.org/wwpp2007/finalReport2007.pdf The annual list is complied with help from specialists at Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Hunter College in New York, India’s ITT, University of Idaho, Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. The full report can be found at
cadmium and other highly toxic substances float. Everything rises into the sky from the tireless chimney of the smelter.
The smelting plant which processes copper, lead, zinc and smaller amounts of gold, silver and other metals was originally owned by a US company. In the 1960s it was nationalised by the Peruvian government. The current owners, Doe Run, a United States Subsidiary of the Renco Group, with its headquarters in Missouri, bought the complex in 1997. Many had hoped that this US company would quickly clean up the plant. Unfortunately, even though Doe Run claims that they have spent over US$100 million modernising the plant, it still has not tackled the main problem of lead, sulphur and dust emissions. Sulphur dioxide continues to be a huge problem and it affects people’s health, especially the young.
A study carried out by the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru in 1999, found that the levels of lead in the blood of children between the ages of 6 months and ten years was triple the level recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It has been known for over 100 years that high levels of lead in the blood, retards growth and lowers IQ levels in children. It can also cause neurological and respiratory problems and, sometimes muscle weakness, as well as cancer of the kidney. But the WHO limits are no longer realistic. On October 7th 2008, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), set new stringent standards for airborne lead particles in line with the recommendations of its scientific advisers. It cut the maximum allowable concentrations to a tenth of the previous standard. This was the first change in federal lead standards in three decades by the US EPA. The new standards set a limit of exposure of 0.15 micrograms per
cubic metre of air, down from 1.5 micrograms. In a press statement, the agency’s administrator, Stephen L. Johnson wrote, “with these stronger standards, a new generation of Americans are being protected from harmful lead emissions”5 . This ruling will have serious consequences for the operations of the Doe Run Company’s lead smelter in Herculaneum, Missouri. It should also apply to La Oroya.
Doe Run Corporation claims that they are taking action to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the smelter in La Oroya. In 2004, they requested that the Peruvian government grant them a four-year extension to implement their environmental management programme. The company claimed that these measures, which will cost US$400 million, will significantly reduce pollution in the region. Despite these promises and some investment, TUV Rheinland, an independent, German-based consultancy company, suspended the environmental certification of Doe Run in March 2008. This had little effect on Doe Run’s operations, as such a certificate is not required for Doe Run to operate legally in Peru. What it does, is send signals to Doe Run’s customers that all is not well with the operation in Peru. In an unrelated action, the Peruvian government has demanded that the company clean up its act, especially with respect to sulphur dioxide emissions by 2009.
In 2005, Archbishop Pedro Baretto, S.J, spear-headed an initiative to eliminate pollution by asking the Faculty of Public Health at St. Louis University in Missouri in the United States to carry out a study of the impact
Felicity Barringer, “E.P.A. Toughens Standard on Lead Emissions: Change is the First in 3 Decades”, New York Times, October 17th , 2008.
of heavy metals on the people and the environment in La Oroya. He wanted answers to three questions:
1. What is the level of contamination of lead, arsenic and cadmium in the families of La Oroya and Conception. 2. What are the biological indicators of the effects of these heavy metals on the populations. 3. How can the result of the study help design and carry out a range of programmes to protect the communities affected by environmental contamination.
The protocols governing the study were submitted and approved by the National Institute of Health in Peru and the Health Department of the region of Junin, where La Oroya is situated. The Protocols were also cleared by US institutions, since the data would be compared to US data. Researchers took samples of blood and urine from residents in La Oroya and also from a control group in Conception, a village 85 kilometres from La Oroya, during August 15th to 20th 2005. Conception has a pop of 11,400, was selected as a control population for having a characteristic similar to La Oroya. However, it does not have a smelting complex and, therefore it could be assumed that it would not have same levels of contamination as La Oroya. From the point of view of Archbishop Pedro Baretto, cleaning up the smelter and thereby reducing the environmental and health problems of the people, is a moral imperative, not merely an environmental or medical one. He told Barbara Fraser that “the magisterium of the church is very clear in denouncing the savage neoliberal system that irrationally exploits resources at the expense
of the people’s life and health. It may sound hard, but this is the magisterium of the Church and that is the Gospel”. 6
Despite a culture of intimidation, which encouraged people not to co-operate with the study, the response from the people was positive. 138 participants came from La Oroya while 112 came from Conception. The participants were arranged into four age groups for the purpose of the study. The first cohort ranged from birth to 2 years old; the second, from 2 years to 6 years; the third, from 6 to 14 years, and the fourth, from 14 to 19. Participants were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about their life and health experience. They were requested to give permission to the researchers to analyze the levels of lead and other chemicals in their houses and to take water, air and land samples from their own homes on a regular basis. The biological samples were sent for analysis to both the University of St. Louis and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The remit of this study was much wider than previous ones. It tested for 14 other chemicals including arsenic, cadmium, mercury, antimony, caesium and thallium, not just in the blood samples, but also in the air and also paint samples from the homes of those who participated in the study. The study found that the concentration of lead in the blood of children from six months to six years was three times above the concentration set by the WHO. For three in every ten children in the old city of La Oroyo, the concentration was often six and seven times above the WHO limits. In the case of cadmium, the concentration in the blood of those from both La Oroya and Conception
Barbara Fraser, “Church leaders defend environment despite risks”, National Catholic Reporter, 25, 2008.
was above the amount allowed in the US. Nearly all the participants from La Oroya, including those from six months to six years had three times more cadmium in their blood than the average US citizen. The data showed that the older the person the greater the concentration of cadmium. Cadmium is a toxic element which can cause kidney problems, loss of bone density, lung cancer and prostate cancer in men. The concentration of arsenic in the samples was higher for La Oroya than for Conception. In La Oroya, it exceeded the amount found in an average US sample. In the case of Conception, the level of arsenic is less than the level of reference in the US. In La Oroya and Conception, mercury levels in the blood were found to be three times the level of the average US sample. Both places had four times the amount of Cesium and La Oroya had more than 30 times the amount of antimony in the blood in comparison with the average US citizen. The fact that the levels for mercury and caesium are high in Conception might suggest that the contamination has spread to the whole valley of Mantaro in which both cities are located. Another independent study reported in Latinamericapress on March 8th 2006. showed that the Yauli River, part of the Mantaro basin in Junin province has shown high levels of heavy metals exceeding permissible standards in Peru.
The findings of the St. Louis study appeared in an article by Barbara Frazer in the prestigious health journal, The Lancet. She wrote that although Doe Run’s executives claimed that they have been dealing adequately with the pollution issue, a study by the California-based Interamerican Association of Environmental Defense found that lead, cadmium, arsenic, and sulphur dioxide pollution increased since Doe Run acquired the company. The reason is that Doe Run boosted production after buying the company and
that there was an increase in what they called “fugitive emissions” from sources other than the plant’s main stack.7
Juan Carlos Huyhua, the general manager of Doe Run, claimed in an interview on CPN Radio in February 2006, that levels of lead in children’s blood has decreased by 50% since the company began implementing environmental controls at the plant and in the city. These included, changing out of contaminated clothes before leaving the plant and encouraging children to wash their hands regularly to cut down on lead contamination.
It is not uncommon in almost every part of the world that people who take stands against large corporations are harassed and often threatened. In my own experience in the Philippines, my neighbour Fr. Carl Smith was murdered in 1986 by a gunman because of his opposition to illegal logging in his area of the Philippines. This also happened in La Oroya. Almost every resident in La Oroya has some connection with the mine, smelter or refinery. 3,000 workers out of a population of 35,000 people work for the mine. Since the company has outsourced some of its business, many more people are employed with companies which do business with Doe Run. In December 2004, the workers rallied to pressure from the Peruvian government to extend the date for full compliance with environmental law until 2010. 8 The company claimed that it didn’t have the money to install pollution control devices. Community groups were not impressed with this poor-mouth approach from Doe Run. They point out that the US owner of Doe Run, Ira
Barbara, Fraser, “Peruvian Mining Town Must Balance Health And Economics,” The Lancet, Vol. 367, Number 9514, March 18, 2006, 8 Robin Emmolt, “Doe Run Smelter Poisons Peru Town Residents,” Planet Ark, May 25th 2005, page 2.
Rennert, had built one of the largest residential complexes in the US in Southampton, New York. This is a coastal resort for the very wealthy. Furthermore, Rennert seems to specialize in buying pollution-troubled companies cheaply and leveraging them up with junk bonds against assets and earnings profit. 9 Efforts by an ecumenical group composed of the leaders of the Catholic, Lutheran and Evangelic Churches to meet with Ira Hennert during a visit to the US in June 2007, failed. 10
When Fernando Serrano, a member of the St. Louis team came to take the blood and urine samples from families in La Oroya he did not expect that he and his researches would be pelted with rotten eggs or see leaflets accusing them of being “vampires”. Whoever was responsible, word went out that the study was aimed at closing down the smelter with the loss of all the jobs in the town. Community activists and Church workers were insulted and, in some cases, received death threats. Frazer writes that “even parents who worry about their children’s health are reluctant to speak up, afraid that they’ll be accused of endangering their neighbours jobs and their town’s economic survival.”11 She sites the case of Miguel Angel Curi, a dental technician, who believes that some neighbours shied away from his business after he became involved in the La Oroya Antigua Defense Front. His own child, Maria de los Angeles had blood-lead concentrations of 35-6 mg/dL which is very high.
ibid “Peru: Interreligious Delegation Reports Environmental Problems in the US”,
www.filter.livinginperu.com/news/img/smelter.jpg500375 11 Barbara Frazer, op. cit.
It is not merely the Church and organisations from the civil society that are criticizing the performance of Doe Run. Government agencies in Peru are well aware of Doe Run’s polluting record. On the 25th of August 2007, CONAM (The Environmental Protection Agency), fined Doe Run $234,000 for a number of pollution incidents. These included “having exceeded maximum permissible atmospheric limits at 2 measuring stations, with respect to particulate parameters”. This was considered a serious infraction. The second serious infraction related to “illegal dumping in the Mantaro River”. Number three infraction related to “exceeding the permitted limit of liquids dumped at one authorized dump site.” And, finally, emitting sulphur dioxide without authorization or measurement.”12 I visited La Oroya and Huancayo on September 16th 2008 in the company of Fr. Noel Kerins SSC and Rebecca Yarnold, Director of the Columban Centre in Lima. In the morning we met with the parish priest of La Oroya, Fr. Jose Deardorff and some of the members of his pastoral team. The members of the pastoral team gave graphic accounts of illnesses which they believe are a direct result of pollution from the smelter and refinery. Clara (not her real name) spoke about the experience of a woman whose medical problems began with a simple tooth ache. Unfortunately, it developed into cancer of the mouth and cheek bone. The pastoral team were very conversant with the results of the St. Louis University’s study. They were disseminating this information through a variety of educational initiatives. They designed a simple poster which listed the various toxic elements, the effects of these toxic metals on human health and the concentrations of the metals found in
Milagro Malpartide Reynoso, Environmental Specialist, Climate Change and Air Quality Unit, CONAM, National Council of the Environment, email@example.com August 25, 2007. 13
the study. Another person in the group spoke of how the company Doe Run has engaged in various public relations exercises in the town. When a 17 year old girl became ill, the company offered to transfer the girl to a Lima hospital. If the girl died in Lima, this would minimise the impact of her death in the local community in La Oroya, according to this informant. She also claimed that the company attempted to have death certificates changed so that the death would not be linked to pollutants from the smelting plant. The company also works with the local hospital and the Ministry of Health. Informants claimed that this was a way of muzzling the doctors so that data on the health problems of the deceased would not be routinely released.
We also visited a number of nutrition centres in La Oroya, where the diocese and the parish run supplementary feeding programmes. Between 1,200 and 1,300 children receive a meal each day which is rich in calcium. This is important since lead pollution does more damage to their health when the children are deficient in calcium.
During the late morning we visited other areas in the city, especially the section close to the smelter. There I saw air monitors which have been paid for, installed and monitored by the diocese of Huancayo. From one of the higher points of the city, I looked down at the smelter and focused especially on the smoke coming out of the large black smokestack. I commented to my Columban companion that the smoke was a mere trickle, but from similar experiences in the Philippines, I expected that the bulk of the emissions would take place at night time, when monitoring was not as strict. Sure enough, later that night on our way back from Huancayo, we saw black smoke belching out of the smokestack as we approached La Oroya.
In Huancayo we met with diocesan workers who were involved in this wellorganised, ecological ministry. Angela Abea, the coordinator of the ministry told us that 34 people worked in the ecological ministry, 24 fulltime and 10 volunteers. Many of these people where professionals, agronomists, chemical engineers, nutritionists, medical personnel, sociologists and educators. Angela told us that there were 28 monitoring points for air, water and soil quality in the archdiocese, many in La Oroya and along the valley of the Mantaro River. Samples were taken regularly and analysed either locally or sent to the US. This data formed the basis of both the lobbying campaign with the government and the educational and nutrition programmes with the local communities, most affected by the pollution. As someone who has been involved in the ecological ministry for almost 30 years, I was very impressed with the professional nature of the ecological ministry. Later in the evening I met with Archbishop Pedro Baretto himself. He is head of SEAS (The Episcopal Commission for Social Action). He spoke of his commitment to those whose health has been affected by pollution in his diocese. His campaign on behalf of these poor people, especially children was guided primarily by religious and ethical values. He told the freelance journalist, Barbara Fraser, who writes for the National Catholic Reporter, that the Church in Peru must take significant steps to think about how to shed light on the problem of metal mining in the coming years. He is aware that, as yet, there is no consensus among the Peruvian Bishops. He also recognized that “the times that are coming will be
difficult, but they will bring us to greater communion and a more radical way of following Jesus”.13
The pollution at La Oroya is being highlighted more and more. While I was in Peru, I read an article by the Argentinean journalist, Guillermo Giacosa, in the newspaper Peru 21 on Monday, September 22, 2008, describing his visit to La Oroya two years ago in 2006. On the journey up from Lima through the mountains, he commented to the driver on the beauty and stillness of the Andean lakes they passed on the way. The retort of the driver, who had probably heard such sentiments expressed by outsider on many occasions, was revealing. “It seems nice, huh? Well, ask the birds who died after daring to drink a single drop of its water.” This outward beauty of the lakes is a symbol of what one finds in La Oroya. It is a comment on the horrors of modern society that, once you scratch beneath the surface, you often finds the hidden reality of death and desolation.14
In 2004, a dispute arose between the mining company Minera Yanacocha Company and the residents of the city of Cajamarca, in Peru’s northern highlands. The mine is operated by the US based Newmont Mining Corporation and Buenaventura of Peru. It is the largest gold mine in Latin America and the second largest in the world.
Barbara Fraser, “Catholics line up against mining operations in Peru”, National Catholic Reporter, January 25, 2008. 14 . Guillermo Giacosa, “ECOS DE LA OROYA,” Peru 21, 22nd September, page 17.
Fr. Marco Arana, a native of Cajamarca is one of the leaders of an environmental and development organization called GRUFIDES which is opposed to mining in the area. Fr. Marco Arana who is the coordinator of the Conservation and Development for the NGO, Grufides, claims that Yanococha’s use of cyanide lixiviation to extract gold from the Cajamar quino, Llaucano and Jequetepeque river basins has caused serious environmental impact to the fragile Andean ecosystem. The water for human consumption, for livestock and fishing, originates in the lower part of the basin. Luis Campos, who is the environment manager at Yanacocha, attempted to rebut these claims by saying that the company is conscious that mining can causes a greater quantity of sediment to end up in the river system. Because of this, the company had built a dam costing US$30 million to hold back 40% of the sediment. Environmentalists counter this by saying that the company has not always been transparent about the quantity of water that the mine uses and the extent of the contamination of the water by the mine.
Although local residents are opposed to the Majaz mining project in the northern highland region of Piura, the government of President Garcia signed a stability contract in 2007 with China’s Xiamen Zijin Tonguan Investment Development Co which took over the project last year.
This dispute began when the company commenced exploring for gold in Cerro Quilish. This hill is rich in gold reserves, but it is also the source of the residents’ water supply. Conflict between the mining company and the local farmers over the plan to conduct open-pit mining in the area claimed two lives in the area in 2004. The bishop of the diocese of Chulucanas, near
Piura, Mons Daniel Murphy Turley, a Chicago born Augustinian missionary, with whom I spoke on September 19, 2008, confirmed that two people had been killed and a number of others injured when police used teargas to break up demonstrations. Mons Turley is totally opposed to the use of violence which is understandable given the two decades of pain experienced by the people in Peru during the time when the guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso were active. Though his non-violence stance is well known, the bishop was prevented from visiting communities were the demonstration were taking place. He found this interference with his pastoral role unacceptable. For him, one of the most important functions of the Church is to share accurate information about what is happening with every segment of the community, to promote dialogue, where ever possible, and to champion non-violent solutions to any conflict.
He also stated that there has been intimidation campaigns against those opposed to the mining operation. These people, whether they be local leaders of campesinos, environmentalists or Church workers are often victims of a defamation campaigns. Conflict over mining can split whole communities and even families. According to Anthony Bebbington of Manchester University, a member of the Peru Support Group, Minera Majar resort to methods aimed at dividing social groups in the area and spreading mistrust. 15 In December 2007, 300 farmers from the province of Ayabaca took part in a five-day event which they called, “ A March of Sacrifice in the Defense of Water and Territory”, In the city of Piuna, they presented a memorandum to the Regional President, Cesar Trilles, calling on the
Milagros Salazar, “Peru Referendum on Mining Unlikely to Determine its Fate”, Latin America update, 28th of July, 2007, page 2.
government of Alan Garcia to respect the results of the referenda which took place in the districts of Ayabaca, Pacaimpampa and Carmen de la Frontera on the 16th of September 2007, opposing the granting of a licence to mine to Majaz. They promised to march on Lima in 2008 if the government continued to ignore their demands.
Very often the poor do not benefit at all from mining activities. For example, Yanacocha reported earnings of US$204 million in the second quarter of 2006. At the same time 77.4% of the population of Cajamarca department live in poverty. 16 A coalition of Peruvian GNOs wrote a letter to the President of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, April 2004, outlining the negative impact of the extractive industries on people and the environment. It read: “The foreign investment flows captured by the mining sector continue to contribute very little to local development and have contributed even less to poverty reduction. It is very significant that in those regions that have attracted strong mining investment during the last decade, poverty levels have not diminished significantly. Today (2004) according to official statistics of the Social Compensation Fund (FONCODES) about 88% of the people living in mining areas pertain to the status of extreme poverty.
Furthermore, La Republica revealed in December 2006 that a company called C & G Investigaciones was spying on and filming environmentalists associated with Grufides in the city of Cajamarca. The firm reportedly handed over the results of the spying to a security firm Forza, which provides services to Yanacocha. There was a file on Fr. Marco Arana
Ibid page 7. 19
which is dubbed “el Diablo,” or the Devil. In an article called “Operation : The Devil” published in La Republica, on December 3, 2006, it claimed to have evidence that Fr. Marco Arana, and two other priests Fr. Francisco Alarcon and Fr. Segundo Centurion were being systematically spied upon, because of their involvement with the NGO GRUFIDES which was set up to work for social justice and the protection of the environment. For years Fr Arana has been denouncing serious environmental destruction by mining companies. Fr. Arana is on record as stating that he is not against mining. “we only ask that laws be observed and social responsibilities be addressed.”
In fact Fr. Arana has played a responsible role as mediator in recent
conflicts among the farmers of Quilish in September 20004 and more recently in August 2006 among the people of Combayo. The La Republica articles claim that the vilification campaign has intensified in recent months and they point the finger at a private security firm, which provides services to the Yancocha mine. Commenting on the events, Fr. Arana says that “the object of this operation is personal defamation as well as intimidation.” 1
Contamination in Cajamarca is not an isolated incident. A study entitled “State of Water Management in Mining: The Peruvian Case” by the environmental consultant Doris Balvin claims that there is also water contamination in the southern departments of Moqegua and Ica, the central highland department of Junin and the south eastern jungle department of Madre de Dios. The report notes that “Southern Peru Copper Corporation’s impact on the Moquesgua and Locumba river basins has been drastic since it began 56 years ago. The open pit Toquepala (in southern Tacna) and
Pacinas, Centro de estudos y Publicciones, No. 203, Febrero 2007, pages 70-72., 20
Cuajone (Moquegual) mines requires large amounts of water and generate enormous quantities of waste that is circulated throughout the basin”. 18
China in Peru
In the past decade, China has been busily seeking commodities and resources to fuel its expanding economy. The residents of Marcona, a port town on Peru’s Pacific coast, feel abused by the authorities at the China owned corporation Shougang-Hierro Peru. This is owned by China’s staterun Shougang Group. Shifts often last 15 hours and the miners are paid US $13 a day, despite the huge profits which the mine is making. There were 450 accidents in 2004, which left 22 workers permanently disabled. The workers look back nostalgically to the days when the mine was owned by a US company.
This Chinese company is responsible for providing light and water for the town. In recent times, water is only available for 4 hours each day while electricity is subjected to many black outs. Local people also accuse the company of tipping chemical waste into the sea, and in the process destroying marine life and making the waters toxic. A union leader, Manuel Vidales said, “the Marcona Mining Company (A US mining company) built the schools we still use today. It built the port, the hospital, the roads and it paid us well. To make mining sustainable, you can’t abuse the communities.”
The Ministry of Energy and Mines in Peru identified more than 600 environmental liabilities in 2003 which would require, at least US$200 million to remediate. By 2006, the number had reached 850. According to FONAM an NGOs, the figure is closer to 2,000 cases located in 66 river basin areas. To remediate these areas would cost at least US$474 million.
As a result of the above, it should not come as a surprise that the mining industry has become extremely unpopular in Peru’s highlands where much of the country’s mining activities take place. 19
Problems with Artisanal mining
Informal mining, often called artisanal mining, is also a problem in Peru. Artisanal mining refers to mining concessions which are less than 1,000 hectares and where the miners move less than 25 metric tons of material per day using mainly manual labour. Approximately 11% of Peru’s gold is produced by artisanal miners. The country produced 203 metric tons in 2006. 2 It is estimated that there are some 89,000 artisanal miners in Peru and a further 20,000 who support the industry. 60% of the artisanal miners work informally, while the rest are attached to small companies or cooperatives. The bulk of artisanal mining is carried out in the southern highland department of Puno and in the Amazon department of Madre de Dios. In recent years, the practice has spread to the north of the country to Piura and Cajamarca. In these areas, miners have come into conflict with farmers. Environmental damage is caused by the use of mercury. Gold is mixed with mercury and buyers separate the gold from the mercury by using
Ibid page 7. 22
gas lighters. The mercury evaporates and pollutes the area when it falls to the ground with rain and snow. .
In the town of La Rinconada in the department of Puno, artisanal mining has been going on for 25 years. Many of these miners wish to join the Ananea Corporation which is the only company with a government concession to operate in La Rinconada. 3 Because of mercury contamination and other social and environmental problems, the citizens in Puno provinces began large protests against the environmental toll of informal mining in the area.
Minamata Disease and the Impact of Mercury poisoning The experience of the people in Minamata should have been a lesson for every country to protect its ecosystems for mercury poisoning. Minimata is located on the west coast of Kyushu, Japan's southernmost island. Its disturbing story began in the 1930s, as the town was attempting to shed its heritage as a poor fishing and farming village. In 1932, the Chisso Corporation, an integral part of the local economy since 1907, began to manufacture acetaldehyde which is used to produce plastics. Mercury, from the production process began to spill into the bay. Though no one knew this until decades later, the mercury formed an organic compound methyl mercury chloride which could enter the food chain. At the time, Minamata residents relied almost exclusively on fish and shellfish from the bay as a source of protein. Mercury accumulates in organisms as it moves up the food chain. It can reach dangerous levels in larger fish that the residents ate regularly. The methyl mercury was not excreted nor broken down, but was stored in peoples’ tissue. Mercury concentrates itself specifically in neural
tissue. Many people began to have experiences which included loss of peripheral sensation and restriction of the visual field. Patients in advanced stages of the condition showed considerable atrophy of the brain which sometimes led violent convulsions. Mercury also concentrates in a developing fetus, leading to congenital symptoms, even where the mother showed no adverse signs of the poisoning. In one dramatic incident, an umbilical cord (traditionally boxed and preserved in Japan) provided material evidence of the suspected mercury concentration, years afterwards. So many people were affected that the disease was called the Minimata disease. In the case of Minimata, there was neither scientific experience nor a pervasive environmental awareness which might have sent alarm bells ringing. That is not true today. Everyone in the Environment and Health Ministry knows that injesting mercury will cause a painful, destructive, and debilitating disease of the nervous system. Given the amounts of mercury used in artisanal mining, one can predict that this disease will blight the lives on thousands of Peruvians now and in the decades to come, long after the mines have been abandoned. Public authorities and Church leaders have a moral responsibility to speak out and take action so that the mistakes which were made in Japan, will not be repeated among poor people in Peru.
Rich Forest Ecosystems Destroyed
Forest ecosystems, rich in biodiversity are also being decimated by mining. In Huaypetue, in Madre de Dios, around 15,000 gold miners have devastated
that portion of the Amazon into a desolate, toxic wasteland. According to LatinamericaPress, “they have filled rivers with mercury, uprooted the trees and there are even complaints of forced labour and slavery.”
Communities must have the right of veto
In the light of the destruction which mining can cause to both the environment and indigenous people, local communities should have the right to veto mining operations. Experience in many places shows that mining companies often attempt to use a divide and conquer approach when it comes to dealing with local communities about where they wish to prospect and mine. Governments, NGOs and Church groups must help indigenous communities organise themselves when they vote to either approve or reject a particular mining scheme. Communities need to be made aware of the problems and benefits associated with mining. Furthermore, NGOs and Church groups need to keep a keen eye on whether the mining company is using money or other inducements to sway the local population.
Water Pollution Even though mining companies only use one percent of Peru’s water, the impact on the environment is much greater than other industries for two reasons. Firstly, discharges contain heavy metal contaminates. Secondly, these discharges often take place close to the headwaters of rivers. This means that the toxic waste is carried through rivers and lakes polluting everything in its path. It can take centuries for polluted ground water to be
purified of heavy metals and other toxins. Food grown in the area absorbs the heavy metals and becomes contaminated.
The Curse of Oil
The problems associated with oil exploration are similar to those of the extractive industry. The Bahuaja-Sonene National Park comprising of 1,092,142 hectares is situated in the south-eastern region of Puno and Madre de Dios. It is home to an estimated 20,000 plant species, 600 species of birds, 232 species of fish, 174 species of mammals, 100 species of reptiles and 1,200 species of butterfly. It is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity. Since many species are endemic they will be forced into extinction if oil prospecting is allowed in the area. In September 2007, Jorge del Castillo, President Alan Garcia’s Cabinet chief discussed proposals to cut down 209,782 hectares of the forest which would allow for oil exploration to take place in the area. This does not take into account the fact that Article 68 of the current Peruvian constitution which states that, “the state is obligated to promote the conservation of biological diversity in natural protected areas”5 The Bahuaja-Sonene’s forests and rivers provide water to other basins downstream and purifies the water in other rivers, such as the Tambopata. These rivers provide water for human consumption in towns and cities such as Puerto Maldonado, the capital of Madre de Dios.
For the past 35 years, communities living along the Corrientes River basin in Peru’s northern Amazon jungle have had to drink contaminated water
resulting from a nearby oil field. During all of that time, the government turned a blind eye to what was going on. On October 10th 2006, the communities demanded an end to the contamination.
The history of the conflict is similar to what has happened all over Latin America. In the 1960s, the Peruvian government allowed oil production in lands owned by indigenous communities. The California-based company Occidental Petroleum Corporation was granted a concession in 1971 and continued to operate the field until 2000 when it sold it to an Argentinabased company named Pluspetrol. Between 1975 and 2005, 640 million barrels of oil were extracted from the field which generated US$16 billion in gross income. The Peruvian state oil company Petroperu also worked in the area. It also sold its concession to Pluspetrol in 1996.
From the very beginning of operations, the water extracted with the oil has not been re-injected into the oil wells, as is done in other places in order to avoid polluting the water systems. In fact, it is dumped into the river. Pluspetrol currently dumps 1.3 million barrels (159 litres each) of production hot waters into the Corrientes River each day. These hot waters can reach high temperatures of 90o Celsius or 194 o F. In addition, the waters contain contaminates such as hydrocarbon particles, chlorine, and heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and barium. These toxic and carcinogenic substances have caused havoc with the health of the communities down stream. Blood tests conducted by the Health Ministry on inhabitants along the Corrientes River basin found that blood samples from 98.5% of the population contained cadmium levels well above permissible limits.
On October 10th 2006, 700 members from the Achuar community surrounded the oil installation causing Pluspetrol to shut down production. The Health Minister, Carlos Vallejos and Energy and Mines Minister, Juan Valdivia negotiated with the people. On October 15th 2006, an agreement was reached, requiring Pluspetrol to re-inject all toxic material into the wells by the end of 2008. 6
Ministry of the Environment
Early in 2008, President Alan Garcia, created a Ministry of Environment. The new minister, Antonio Brack Egg, said that he believed in mining that is clean and socially responsible. However, according to environmentalist Jose De Echave, the ministry has no teeth. For example, Environmental Impact Studies (EISs) still come under the aegis of the Ministry of Mining and Energy.
Many countries such as the Philippines and Peru are poorly equipped to manage the expansion of major industrial mines. Bribery and corruption are very often close to the surface. The situation in Peru is particularly
alarming since, to date, it is estimated that only 10% of the mining potential is being explored or exploited. The problem is that future mining prospects are situated in very vulnerable areas such as the headwaters of river basins. The situation is even more worrying since, as yet, there is no ecological zoning of the national territory.
Regulating industrial mining is a complex business, and few developing countries have the technical expertise and institutional capacity to do it effectively.
What can be done to help Majority World countries to deal with the upsurge of mining? First, though many nations have laws to protect the environment and regulate mining, enforcement is very weak and it is often hampered by outright corruption by local or national politicians. In the case of Peru, the government has shown little capacity to monitor and supervise mining activities. Secondly, there is very little expertise in managing mining in a
tropical environment where heavy rain can cause massive levels of soil erosion and water pollution. This means that mining is not taking place within an acceptable concept of sustainable development. International aid and training is needed to improve developing nation’s technical capacity so that they can better enforce their laws and eliminate or limit environmental damage. More money is needed to regulate industrial mining and control illegal mining. Much of this cost ought to be covered by the multinational mining corporations which are making enormous profits with soaring mineral prices. The reason mining Transnational Corporations (TNCs) target poor countries is that labour costs and taxes are low, mineral royalties are modest or low and environmental laws are relaxed.
But the destruction wrought by mining corporations is not merely a problem for poor countries. countries. Most mining TNCs have their headquarters in rich
First world citizens and particularly Church people should
campaign for much higher standards. The Aparecida document of CELAM
states that: According to the Declaration, “Mother Earth is our common home, the place of the alliance of God and human beings and all of Creation. Therefore, destroying it is a sin.” For this reason it questions directly the exploitation of metal mining: “…we must be alert to extractive industries that eliminate forests, contaminate the water and convert the exploited zones into immense deserts,” declared the document. Afterwards, Benedict XVI received in the Vatican the ad limina visit of the bishops of El Salvador, led by Archbishop Fernando Sáenz Lacalle of San Salvador, who in his report to the Supreme Pontiff presented metal mining as one of the principal problems of the country and referred to the declaration of the Episcopal Conference “ Let us Care For the House of All,” which called for rejection of minera l exploitation. “God wishes that the deputies and functionaries of the Executive, who call themselves Catholic, conform to the position of the national, Latin American and global hierarchy of the Catholic Church. And may it be that the whole population of El Salvador identified with Christian principles defend Creation, the House of All, seriously deteriorated and now threatened by possible mineral exploitation, driven by false Christians or antichrists.
Need for a Theology of Mining
Here we have the basis of a theology of mining and ethics which ought to guide the Church’s behaviour. It is important to develop a theology of mining to guide practical actions. Some brief pointers might begin with a theo-centric and a biospheric theology of creation, with a clear recognition that humans have now become a major geological force on earth. Mining is
a good example of that where vital ecosystems are transformed and destroyed. The theological implications of mining on biodiversity and water sources needs to be investigated and highlighted.
A biospheric view of creation will emphasis the intrinsic value of nature. For many centuries, Christian theology and ethics only gave instrumental value to the non-human world. Once the earth was seen as merely a quarry for humans to mine in whatever way they wished, no moral obligations applied to human use or misuse of the rest of creation. .
We are now beginning to reclaim a more cosmological and biblical perspective that creation has intrinsic value in the Divine perspective. This has important implications for limiting human intervention in sensitive ecosystems, such tropical forests or areas where water systems are particularly vulnerable to pollution.
A justice or liberation theology perspective, would also include considerations of universal destination of the ‘goods’ of the earth. The Church’s preferential option for the poor, dictates that the financial benefits which accrue from mining be directed to improve the life of the poor. In the Northern Hemisphere Churches must lobby those who invest in international mining to use great caution. The Northern Churches are challenged to take seriously the comments of Pope Benedict XVI in Sydney in July 2008 that “the earth is suffering from erosion, deforestation, squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources.” This challenge to a more simple, sustainable life-style would dampen the market for gold, silver and other
metals in rich countries. This in turn would ease the pressure on vulnerable ecosystems in countries such as Peru.
A good example how Northern countries can influence the behaviour of mining companies is given in an article entitled, “Norway offloads 500 million pounds of Rio Tinto shares over ‘unethical’ mine stake|”, The Guardian,.20 The paper reported that the Norwegian Minister for finance, Kisten Halvorsen said that his country was selling off 500 million pounds of Rio Tinto shares held by the Pension Fund for potentially subjecting it to “grossly unethical conduct” through its involvement in the Grasbery mine in the Indonesian province of Papua. Rio Tinto was involved in a joint venture with Freeport McMoRan, a company which was excluded by the fund in 2006. This mine, which is the biggest gold mine in the world, had caused severe environmental damage in the area. The company had dumped millions of tonnes of or waste into the local river system. In 2007, an investigation by War on Want, found that local people had suffered serious human rights and environmental abuses. Nick Cobban, a spokesperson for Rio Tinto expressed surprise and disappointment at the Norwegian decision. Ruth Tanner, campaigns and policy director at the charity War on Want welcomed Norway’s decision and hoped that other countries would follow in its footsteps.
Unfortunately, while a theology of mining is only in its infancy, the ethical issues related to mine have received more consideration for the past few
Terry Macalister, “Norway offloads 500m of Rio Tinto shares over ‘unethical’ mine stake”, The Guardian, September 10, 2008, page 25.
decades. In fact, there is a general consensus developing which I will outline below. The Principles of Responsible Mining
This is defined in Our Common Future, as
development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their need. Equity. This means fairness in the distribution of costs and benefits of development, as well as in the treatment of women and other traditionally marginalized groups, such as indigenous people. Participatory Decision Making. This means that all citizens have the right to participate in natural resource development decisions, which must be accompanied by effective access to information and opportunity to seek redress and accountability if agreements are not respected. Accountability & Transparency. This means that mining companies should support independent monitoring and oversight and disclose the impacts of their operations. The Precautionary Principle. This implies that governments have the right to decide against promoting certain economic activities. If it does allow industries to engage in mining it needs to establish regulations to prevent serious environmental degradation. Efficiency. This implies greater efficiency in the use of energy and water, maximizing reuse and recycling of materials, and minimizing waste.
Individuals and corporations responsible for
generating pollution must pay for cleanup and environmental restoration. Human Rights An ethical evaluation of mining must give particular prominence to promoting human rights. A number of these rights are a sine que non of responsible mining: Human Rights. All human beings regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, race, religion, political views, or sexual orientation are entitled to universal claims that cannot be taken away or exchanged. Labour Rights. The right to freedom of association, the abolition of forced labour, equality, workplace health and safety, and the elimination of child labour. Right to Development. Government should ensure that development is based on the free and fair participation of all citizens and the equitable distribution of benefits. Right to a Healthy Environment. The right of present and future
generations to enjoy a healthy environment and a decent quality of life. This was strongly promoted by Pope John Paul II. Indigenous Peoples Rights. The right to exist as a peoples, self-
determination, control over territory, cultural integrity, political organization and expression, and fair compensation for damage to the lands.
Women’s’ Rights. Eliminate disparities in the treatment of men and women. This includes a right that their bodies not be polluted in a way that makes it possible to pass on toxic chemicals to their children. This ethical framework ought to guide our judgments in relation to mining and other extractive industries.
Hildegard Willer, “Environmentalists under threat,” LatinamericaPress, February 7the 2007, page 9. 2 GAMA Project, CooperAccion, Latinamericapress, July 11th 2007, page 2.
1 3 4
Hildegard Willer, “Risking cold for gold”, Latinamericapress, July 11, 2007, pages 1 and 2. Ramiro Escobar, “National park targeted by oil”, Latinamericapress, December 26, 2007, pages 3 and 4. 5 Ibid page 4.
Cecilia Ramon, “Oil, but no development,” LatinamericaPress, November 1st 2006, page 6.
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