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Peru: Emergency in Huancavelica Caused by Mine Tailings

About a week ago an ecological disaster took place in the region of Huancavelica, one of the main mining zones in the country which paradoxically also has one of the poorest populations. Like the news [es] from Servindi Perú report: “The dam holding the tailings of the Caudalosa chica mine burst on Friday June 25 at 8 in the night spreading its toxic waste on river Opamayo”. It should be noted that this river was already quite contaminated [es] due to highly active mining in the areas it runs through, preventing the use of its adjacent lands for agriculture. The contamination (more than 21,000 m3 [es] of tailings) has extended [es] through an area of 70 kilometers (43.5 miles), implicating the Mantaro and Urubamba rivers, which could reach the Amazon.

Subsequently, it was said that this disaster could have been prevented; as it appears [es] in El Comercio, the mayor of Huachocolpa (one of the affected communities) said that “during 2009 Osinergmin had inspected the mine and detected problems in the storage of the A tailings, but there was no comprehensive follow-up of the improvement of these deficiencies.” And it is not the first time [es] that this happens with this mine. Consequently, the state was sued [es] for putting the lives of the residents in risk. Congress has also requested giving sanctions [es] to the mining company which is responsible for the incident. Later, the Minister of Environment declared a state of environmental emergency [es] for 90 days in the area affected by the spill of the mining tailings.

But sanctions will not get rid of the fact that the damage is already done, and for this reason the people of Huancavelica have decided to protest. Living in Peru informs that, “The residents of Aymaraes, a province in Huancavelica region, will start a 48-hour strike tomorrow, July 7, in protest against the pollution generated by toxic waste spread into the Opamayo river.” All these events have generated some, but not a lot, of reactions from the Peruvian blogosphere. Let's see for example Jorge Manco Zaconetti from the blog Kuraka: Minería y Energía who analyzes the issue [es] in general terms:

La pésima imagen que tiene el sector minero en el Perú es producto de la ausencia de una genuina política de responsabilidad social, ambiental y tributaria, lo cual se expresa en un crecimiento empobrecedor inducido por una coyuntura internacional favorable. A ello debiera sumarse la impunidad que tienen algunas empresas mineras respecto al manejo ambiental de sus pasivos mineros, al alto grado de contaminación que generan sus operaciones como la falta de mantenimiento de las relaveras y la ausencia de medidas para prevenir emergencias ambientales. Es inaceptable desde el punto de vista social y moral que con las elevadas utilidades mineras obtenidas en los últimos años existan tragedias ambientales como la sucedida en la cuenca del río Huachocolpa, Lircay Huancavelica provocada por la Mra. Caudalosa S.A. que tiene como principal accionista al grupo Raffo.

The bad image the mining sector has in Peru is due to the absence of a genuine policy of social, environmental and tax responsibility, which is expressed in the impoverishing growth induced by a favorable international situation. To this I should add the impunity that some mining companies enjoy regarding the environmental management of mining liabilities, high levels of pollution generated by their operations like the lack of maintenance for tailings and the absence of measures to prevent environmental emergencies. It is unacceptable from a social and moral standpoint that with high mining profits obtained in recent years these environmental tragedies happen, like the one which occurred in the river basin Huachocolpa, Lircay Huancavelica caused by Mine Caudalosa S.A. whose main shareholder is the group Raffo.

He later adds:

la fiscalización en la actividad minera ha pasado por tres manos en menos de 5 años, y de verdad ello estaría explicando la debilidad institucional del Estado para fiscalizar con eficiencia y eficacia la actividad minera, como la demora para adoptar decisiones ante tragedias ambientales como la presente. En tal sentido, esta tragedia ambiental constituye una prueba de fuego para el organismo regulador y para el ministerio de Medio Ambiente.

the auditing of the mining industry has gone through three hands in less than 5 years, and the truth is that this would explain the weakness of State institutions to efficiently and effectively monitor mining activity, like the delay to make decisions in environmental tragedies such as this. In that sense, this environmental tragedy is a test for the regulating organism and for the Ministry of Environment.

The blogger from Toustodo's Blog thinks that the government's measures should be more drastic [es]:

Todas las autoridades ambientales entre ellas el Ministerio de Ambiente discursean pero no hacen nada, no hay sanciones efectivas ni siquiera una enérgica exigencia cara a cara con los responsables; solamente migajas, nada de indemnizaciones, juicios, cárcel, cierre de empresas para los que cometen por negligencia u otros motivos semejantes atrocidades.

All environmental authorities including the Ministry of Environment give speeches but do nothing, there are no effective sanctions or even energetic face-to-face demands with those responsible; only crumbs, no claims, lawsuits, imprisonments, closure of businesses for those who commit by negligence or otherwise such atrocities.

Trying to see things in a different way, but still being critical, Saúl Mandujano from the blog El Pensamiento y Productos gives his opinion [es] on the programmed protests:

Hoy pensaba comer trucha frita de alguna piscigranja y se me vino a la mente casi involuntariamente preguntar de dónde lo traían en son de broma casi de mal gusto. Sean cuales sean los resultados de estas medidas de protesta, de éxito o de “fracaso” (solo para los que lo quisieran así) envío mi apoyo incondicional nuevamente y de solidaridad con el pueblo de Angaraes, principalmente con los afectados directamente por este acto irresponsable y mercenario que considero de terrorismo ambiental.

Today I thought about eating fried trout from some fish farm and it came to my mind, almost involuntarily, to ask where they brought the trout from as an almost tasteless joke. Whatever the results of these protest are, success or “failure” (only for those who want it) again I send my wholehearted support and solidarity to the people of Angaraes, mainly those directly affected by this irresponsible and mercenary act which I consider environmental terrorism.

Finally the Congressman for Huancavelica, Miro Ruíz, declares [es] on his blog:

existen fundamentos suficientes para que la denuncia penal contra los responsables de tan condenable crimen ecológico proceda ya que se sustenta en los artículos 286°,304°,306° y 313° del Código Penal relacionados con la contaminación de aguas, alimentos y medio ambiente, hechos que representan delito de peligro común, ya que la contaminación del río Opamayo y sus afluentes ha afectado a poblaciones rurales y urbanas que se cuentan por miles y que habitan y desarrollan sus actividades diarias a orillas de estos ríos. Por lo tanto, este condenable acto es un claro atentado contra la salud pública de los pobladores de tres regiones del país, Huancavelica, Ayacucho y Junín.

there are reasonable grounds for a criminal complaint against the perpetrators of such a reprehensible environmental crime because the complaint is sustained by Articles 286, 304, 306 and 313 of the Criminal Code relating to pollution of water, food and environment, facts that constitute the crime of common danger, since the pollution of the river Opamayo and its tributaries has affected rural and urban populations in the thousands who live and perform their daily activities on the banks of these rivers. Therefore, this reprehensible act is a clear attack on the public health of the residents of three regions of the country, Huancavelica, Ayacucho and Junin.

The news from Huancavelica indicate [es] that the programmed strike was respected by the private sector as well as by public institutions, and everything developed without violent events. The aforementioned mayor of Huachocolpa, Celso Condori Ramos, noted [es] that, “Up to now the mine is not even complying with handing over the information about the chemical composition of the tailings, and neither is it giving us the analysis of the water of the river through any authorities,” which is, truly, very disturbing.

The image belongs to Flickr user Peter Waterman and is used under a Creative Commons license.

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