Andean villagers in Peru on Wednesday told an inter-American legal court how their health has suffered for decades from environmental damage caused by a mining company that extracts heavy metals in their midst.
The municipality of La Oroya accuses the Lima government of allowing Renco’s Doe Run Peru company to pollute at will while ignoring its fate.
“The state was like a father who ignored us,” said 74-year-old villager Rosa Amaro on the first day of a hearing against the Peruvian government at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
She was one of several residents who reported the effects of decades of exposure to heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic.
Watchdogs say La Oroya, a city of 30,000 people about 185 kilometers (115 miles) east of Lima, is one of the most polluted cities in the world, with lead, zinc, gold and copper being refined in the area.
Amaro told the court in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo this week that she had seen the hills around her town become bare over time because “the plants wouldn’t grow.”
Through tears, she testified that residents struggled with burning throats and eyes, headaches and difficulty breathing.
Others told of tumors, muscle problems and infertility attributed to pollution from the smelters.
Amaro, who led a local lobby group in La Oroya, said she was forced to leave the town where she had lived all her life in 2017 because relatives of miners worried about their jobs were threatened if they did Doe Run would be held accountable.
Plaintiffs allege the state also failed to investigate threats and harassment against them.
– ‘compromised of his commitment’ –
Residents of La Oroya sued the Peruvian government and in 2006 obtained a partial favorable ruling from the Constitutional Court ordering protective measures.
Last year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which investigates alleged human rights abuses, said those measures were never implemented.
The commission found that the state had failed to regulate and monitor the mining company’s behavior and “compromised its obligation to uphold human rights”.
It referred the matter to the court, now sitting in Montevideo, to determine reparations.
“My health is already shattered. All I want is for future generations to remain in good health,” plaintiff Yolanda Zurita, 63, said in court on Wednesday about her expectations for the trial.
Doe Run Peru, which has operated in La Oroya since 1997, filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
Under a loan agreement, the company was handed over to its miners, who plan to reopen the closed smelter.