Alessandro Cinque

Freelance Photojournalist

PERU, A TOXIC STATE

Title: Peru, a Toxic State – 2017-Ongoing
The Violated Rights of Indigenous Communities in Peru.

“Peru, a Toxic State” captures the stories, struggles, and sorrows of indigenous communities experiencing the imposition of mining operations on their territories. The project has been ongoing since 2017 and will result in a photo book. It exposes the environmental and public health costs of Peru’s growing economy at the expense of Andean Campesinos.

“Peru, a Toxic State” is a visual journey through the mining corridor. It begins in the Espinar province where the local population carries the scars of 35-year long contamination. Two copper mines have poisoned the crops and scarce water supplies. Heavy metals flow in human blood and urines. Children are born with mental issues and physical malformations. And kidney failure and cancer are among the main causes of death.

As Peru has been increasing its GDP selling lands and resources to multinational corporations, Espinar’s fate is repeating in other parts of the country. Someone, like Abel Larico, is trying to warn other communities of Campesinos about the effects mining operations will have on their lives. After the police killed one of his friends in a protest, Larico left his job at the Glencore’s mines in Espinar and moved near Las Bambas, another copper mine that started operating in 2016. He now works as a nutritionist in Centro de Salud Challhuahuacho. In the area, an increasing number of people are malnourished and suffer from anaemia. Four years of toxic dust falling from the thousand trucks travelling every day on the corridor have turned corn bad showing some first damages. Increasing awareness of such effects is slowing down the start of new operations in other areas. Near the port where each day hundreds of trucks embark to leave the country, another mining project, Tia Maria, has been waiting for a decade to begin its activities. Locals are strongly opposing the project and protests often end up in violent clashes with the police.

According to the right of “prior consultation,” indigenous communities should have a say on projects affecting their territories. But the opinions of Quechua populations about prospective mining operations do not get heard and over the years have been violently repressed.

So, while Peru has become the second-largest producer of copper in the world, the livelihood of the indigenous communities has been devastated by the pollution originated from mining activities, as evident also in La Oroya and Cerro de Pasco.

La Oroya is considered one of the ten most polluted places in the world. Near the population centre, Doe Run Peru refines metals from all over the country dispersing lead, cadmium, and sulfur dioxide in the surroundings. In Cerro de Pasco, instead, a huge open-cast mine lies in the heart of the Andean town. Water is available only a couple of hours a day and is highly contaminated. According to local reports, at least 2,000 children live with chronic heavy metals poisoning.

They are vivid examples of new forms of colonialism taking over the environment and the very lives of the indigenous people of the Andes.