Archbishop in Peru threatened for calling for responsible environmental regulation of smelter

March 14, 2012
by 
Mary Durran, International Programs Officer for Latin America
Archbishop Barreto of Huancayo, Peru

On March 2nd, 2012, Archbishop Pedro Jimeno Barreto of Huancayo and his team, received anonymous death threats for opposing the re-opening of a US owned polymetallic smelter in the city of La Oroya.

For many years now, Archbishop Barreto, who is the President of the Justice and Solidarity department of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference (CELAM), and the former president of the Bishops’ Social Action Commission (CEAS), an organization supported by Development and Peace, has spoken out against the operations of the smelter. Its activities have made La Oroya one of the most polluted cities in the world. Alarming rates of lead and other metals have been found present in the blood of local residents, and many respiratory problems and other diseases have been reported.

Following a church-led campaign in 2009, Doe Run, the company that operated the smelter, was forced to close down operations, resulting in dramatic improvements in public health. However, recently the Peruvian Congress has started debating a law permitting the extension of the smelter’s Environmental Remediation and Management Program (ERMP or PAMA in Spanish) and the re-launch of operations, despite the fact that the smelter’s activities have proven to be extremely harmful to the health of the population, and the company has never complied with the terms of the ERMP.

Archbishop Barreto has spoken out against the proposed re-launch, arguing that operations should not be re-started without first enacting the previous ERMP. Two days after making a public statement, he and his team received telephoned death threats.

As Archbishop Barreto stated: “The biggest threat to our lives is to continue to accept the pollution of the atmosphere, lead in the blood of our children and to know that the future will not be better after all this contamination.”

To show your support of Archbishop Barreto, you can write a letter to the President of Peru, and put in copy the Secretary General of CEAS, to say that you are concerned about the death threats being made against Archbishop Barreto and his colleagues. You can include that you would like their safety ensured, and that the re-opening of the smelter is unacceptable if the rights of citizens to a healthy environment is not respected.

This is a sample letter in Spanish that can be used, or you can also write one in your own language.

Señor Ollanta Humala Tasso
Presidente de la República del Perú
Palacio de Gobierno

Sr. Presidente,

Como miembros de la Organización Canadiense Catolica para el Desarrollo y la Paz, hemos sido informados de que Monseñor Pedro Jimeno Barreto, Arzobispo de Huancayo, y Vicepresidente de la Conferencia Episcopal Peruana, y sus colaboradores del equipo Mantaro Revive han sido objetos de amenazas de muerte telefónicas el viernes 2 de marzo.

Quiséramos expresar nuestra preocupación de que este episodio de seria intimidación ha ocurrido dos días después de haberse publicado un comunicado del Arzobispado que pide el respeto del derecho a la salud de los ciudadanos de La Oroya ante el inminente inicio de las operaciones de la empresa Doe Run Peru.

Por ello, le transmitimos nuestra gran preocupación y pedimos que el gobierno otorgue todas las garantías de seguridad a Monseñor Barreto y a los miembros del equipo Mantaro Revive de Huancayo. Asimismo, exhortamos al gobierno central y a los congresistas peruanos de permitir la reactivación del Complejo Metalúrgico de La Oroya, sólo después del cumplimiento del Programa de Adecuación y Manejo Ambiental (PAMA) que asegure la vida, la salud y un trabajo digno.

Atentamente,

Your signature

You can e-mail the letter to the following people:

Ollanta Humala, President of Peru: lcastror@presidencia.gob.pe
Daniel Abugattas, President of the Congress: dmajluf@congreso.gob.pe
Oscar Valdes, President of the Cabinet of Ministers: ovaldes@pcm.gob.pe
Humberto Ortiz, Secretary General of CEAS: hortizr@amauta.rcp.net.pe

Thank you for your support.