It’s still so shocking.
Youth and young adults from Perú and the United States joined together to paint a mural about cooperation and care for creation last week. Their energy and commitment were met with violent aggression by over 200 people from the Doe Run Peru smelter in La Oroya. This is the newest disturbing scene in the long and troubling history of environmental and health problems resulting from the smelter’s operation.
Please take a moment to read more, pray for all those involved–youth from Filomena Tomaira Pacsi in La Oroya, the students from Presbyterian Campus Ministry at the University of Arizona, mission co-worker Jed Koball, and the hundreds of aggressors–and consider sending a letter drafted by PC(U.S.A.)’s Joining Hands program to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern over the U.S. government’s role in the situation with Doe Run Peru.
First of three parts of a video interview (in Spanish) with Jed Koball by Peruvian news outlet La República.
This 2006 article from Mother Jones paints a broad picture of the issue of Doe Run and contamination in La Oroya, which has not yet been resolved.
Description of U.S. representatives’ efforts to win official intervention with the Peruvian government, following lobbying efforts of U.S.-based Renco Group (parent company of Doe Run Peru) owned by billionaire Ira Rennert.
March 21, 2011
The Honorable Hillary Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington , D.C. 20520
I write in response to a Congressional request calling for U.S. intervention in a dispute between the Peruvian government and Doe Run Peru, a member of the Renco Group, Inc., a U.S. corporation. The Renco Group has failed to fully comply with a 1997 environmental agreement that commits to upgrade a large multi-metal smelter in La Oroya, Peru, a city that is repeatedly cited as one of the ten most contaminated spots on earth.
In a February 11 letter in the Congressional Record, Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ) requested Secretaries Clinton and Geithner to “work together” to challenge “disparate treatment” of Doe Run Peru by the Peruvian government . It questioned the “appropriateness” of further investment in Peru by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as a response to the possibility that the plant itself is expropriated by the government.
Secretary Clinton, should the U.S. government intercede, it should do so based on principles that protect the vulnerable, the environment and require our businesses abroad to fulfill their commitments without requiring public pressure to do so. Threatening to cut off IDB investment to Peru is unjustifiable given that the Peruvian government is attempting to deal with one foreign mining corporation that has repeatedly delayed complying with the agreement it signed. The only viable corrective in La Oroya is for the corporation to clean up the facility and then for the government to remediate the polluted soil – in that order. The government of Peru is finally holding this corporation accountable. The goal is for the clean up to continue and for the smelter to provide good jobs so that the community may thrive.
The Renco Group is a New York-based operation with significant holdings in mining and metals production that is owned by U.S. billionaire Ira Rennert. According to ABC News, his companies have a combined track record of tens of millions of dollars in fines and clean up costs for pollution at several U.S. industrial sites, levied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agencies. One of the Renco Group’s Utah plants was listed as the EPA’s number one toxic polluter for years. The plant in Herculaneum, MO, also has a poisonous history.
Such questionable behavior is not what the U.S. business community needs to export, despite trade agreements such as the Free Trade Promotion between the United States and Peru.
In La Oroya, newspapers, scientific studies and an international human rights commission have documented how children are poisoned daily by toxins emitted by the smelter. A 2005 study by St. Louis University and the Centers for Disease Control established that more than 97 percent of La Oroya’s children had elevated levels of blood lead. While contamination predates Renco’s purchase of the smelter, the emissions continue despite the company’s promise to resolve the problem and it has only partially lived up to its commitment.
While Doe Run Peru documents that it has fulfilled much of its environmental agreement with the Peruvian government, the final phase – a sulfuric acid filtering plant – is the critical facility needed to curtail emission levels before any permanent remediation of the soil can begin. It is an expensive undertaking, certainly; but the Peruvian government has already granted the company multiple extensions to enable compliance. Had the Renco Group done so, it would be lauded throughout the hemisphere for its exemplary humanitarian conduct and ethical business standards. All Renco had to do was comply, but it has not done so.
When trade agreements give already powerful companies new means of appeal, the local impact can be violent at worst, as well as impair free speech and assembly. Indigenous groups in the Amazon Basin protested a mix of foreign investment and environmental contamination in 2009 and dozens of people died. Tensions run high in La Oroya, too.
The New York Times reported that some workers at the plant burned an effigy of Archbishop Pedro Barreto, an outspoken critic of the company’s record. Lima’s major daily newspaper, La Republica, reported that on March 16, 2011, local teenagers and several University of Arizona college students on a mission trip were painting a mural at a site designated by the mayor’s office when they were approached by a mob of more than 200 men who allegedly claimed to be employees of Doe Run Peru. According to the group, the men assaulted the students. The group barricaded themselves in a store until police arrived, while the crowd banged on the door and shouted for the students to come outside. Upon exiting the store with police, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker was punched in the face; another student was hit in the head with a paint can; others report bruising and shoving. Human rights lawyers are presently investigating the case in Lima, Peru.
As this administration weighs future free trade agreements, I hope that the Renco Group is not the standard that the U.S. government wants to uphold abroad at the expense of the health of children and the environment. Should you decide to intervene, please do so in a way that enables the State of Peru to enforce its own environmental laws and to stand up for its most vulnerable citizens.