Thursday, September 27, 2012

Joining Hands to Heal La Oroya

Dear members of PEC and friends,

An important part of the recent “Together for Justice 2012 International Gathering” in Chicago focused on trade and extractives, both of which significantly affect both environmental and social justice arenas. The Presbyterian Hunger Program (which is our home base with Environmental Ministries) has been a strategic partner in working with many countries for in fair trade and seeking justice in the area of extractives. One particularly significant relationship is with the Joining Hands ministry in Peru. Peru was represented at the conference by mission co-worker, Jed Koball.
Jed Koball, mission co-worker in Peru (also left, Hunter Farrell, director of World Mission) at the Joining Hands Conference
I share the following information from the Presbyterian News Service:
For more than 10 years, U.S. Presbyterians have been involved with partners in La Oroya to raise awareness in Peru and the United States about air, water and soil pollution created by mining practices of U.S. companies in La Oroya.

In July 2000 … a development organization in La Oroya ― joined the Joining Hands Network (Red Uniendo Manos Peru) in Peru, a network of Peruvian churches and non-profit organizations who came together with Presbyterians in the United States to look at root causes of poverty in Peru.

.…Findings, first released in December 2005, put La Oroya on the map as one of the 10 most contaminated cities in the world, with contamination extending into the food-producing valley of Huancayo, 50 miles away.

Working with organizations in Peru and the United States…, U.S. Presbyterians continued to press the issue. Peru’s National Mining Association called upon Renco [the parent organization] to stop asking for extensions and implement the agreed-upon improvements in its La Oroya operations. Peru’s Congress stopped granting extensions and told the company to comply. 

In October 2010 the company chose to stop operations and declare bankruptcy. Now Renco is suing the government of Peru for $800 million in the UNCITRAL, a U.N.-related entity that hears cases under free-trade agreements.

“This means that in addition to enduring years of contamination, Peruvians will see their country spend its limited resources on legal fees instead of needed infrastructure, education and health facilities,” says Ruth Farrell, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Current PC(USA) mission co-worker Jed Koball, who has worked with the Joining Hands Network in Peru since 2009, says the case “illustrates how so many causes of poverty are interlinked. In La Oroya, the issue was first protection of public health. Then the ongoing contamination became a human rights issue. Now, it is a trade issue.”

U.S. Presbyterians continue their relationships with people in La Oroya through visits… More than 300 Presbyterians have visited La Oroya and put in hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours researching, getting the word out and connecting with other groups in the U.S. who can help.

The PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness, along with others, continues to arrange visits for Presbyterians and Peruvian partners with Congress and the State Department…

In 2009, I visited Peru, including La Oroya, during a PC(USA) study tour and saw first hand the social and environmental impact of the toxins related to this extractive industry. As one enters the mountain area coming into the area, one notes that they are white with sulfur …and there is a sudden depletion of vegetation for miles. The river coming from the smelting plant is a very angry brown color…

Diane Waddell at La Oroya in 2009 with PC(USA) study trip 
The whole area of extractives is one for us to consider prayerfully. We must look at not only looking at the effect of the toxic waste, but also at the fact that we purchase goods made from these metals in the first place.

Please keep the Joining Hands Program, including Jed Koball, the people of Peru and all associated with working toward a resolution of this concern in your thoughts and prayers…and work toward action and advocacy as you are led.

Caring for Earth together, 
Diane Waddell
Presbyterians for Earth Care

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