The Andean mountains dominate the landscape of Peru. Yet, hidden behind their rugged beauty is a growing bleakness, as many communities that live high along those peaks are experiencing the environmental and social impacts of mining concessions. Currently, more than 13% of Peruvian territory has been given out in concessions, and generally without the consultation of communities. Although not all this land is being exploited, the often unexpected arrival of mining companies is causing destructive social conflicts.
Development and Peace partner, the Episcopal Commission on Social Action (CEAS) in Peru, is working with communities in their struggle for ecological justice and the local management of their natural resources, so they can return to living in dignity in a clean and healthy environment. They educate communities on their rights so they can engage with companies and advocate for fair consultation and compensation.
CEAS, which was founded in 1965 to be the Peruvian church’s official organization for promoting Church social teaching and defending human rights, has been supporting the community of La Oroya, one of the most polluted places in the world due to a US-owned smelter that sits along the fringes of the city.
CEAS helped in organizing soil and blood tests, which have shown high levels of lead and other toxins. This evidence led to the closure of the smelter for three years, and the adoption of environmental norms to be followed when it re-opened.
“We must act in a way that respects the life and dignity of all human persons, enables the proper participation of all Peruvian citizens, and reduces environmental degradation, conflict, and division,” said Monsignor Pedro Ricardo Barreto, vice-president of CEAS, in testimony to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights. He spoke on behalf of communities impacted by mines to share the injustices they are living and ask that US-owned companies respect environmental standards in their operations.
“Surely the people of Peru, its workers and residents, must share in the benefits of the extractives industries and not be harmed by these activities,” he said, imparting a principle that CEAS will continue to fight for alongside affected communities.