PPK visit to La Oroya

10 July 2016

President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s visit to the smelter complex at La Oroya on 6 July was seen by many observers in Lima that the new government would try to resolve some of the outstanding issues left by his predecessors. For years, the future of La Oroya has been in doubt, ever since it was acquired by the US Doe Run in the 1990s. Doe Run systematically failed to honour commitments to upgrade the complex, reckoned to be one of the world’s most polluted sites.

At La Oroya, Kuczynski delivered an important speech promising to take action as president to avoid the liquidation of the company at La Oroya (and the Cobriza mine) and to save the jobs of those 2,000 employed there and, indeed, the entire economy of this bleak outpost of the extractive economy.

But he also, importantly, threw down a challenge to those who argue that the new government’s only alternative is to obey the mandate of the pro-Fujimorista majority in the new Congress. In surprisingly strong language he exhorted the workers to support him in standing up to Congress: “you help me with Congress and I will help you so that this [the revival of La Oroya] goes ahead. You know who controls Congress. Let’s organize a march on Congress so that we do not let La Oroya die”. Kuczynski has thus gone on record in saying that he does not intent to be a pawn of Fuerza Popular.

But, as Jose de Echave at Cooperacción has argued, saving the plant and jobs at La Oroya does nothing, in itself, to resolve the problem of modernizing the smelter and resolving the acute environmental problems associated with it. “What’s clear”, he writes “is that if the metallurgical complex resumes operations without having undertaken the investment pending in the copper cycle, the population of this locality, including the 2,000 workers and their families, will [continue to] receive daily the toxic cocktail of heavy metals, and the complex will become once again a macro-emitter”

Numerous studies, reported by the PSG amongst other organisations, have shown the extent to which 90% of those at La Oroya suffer from higher-than-permitted levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic in their blood.

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