Peru, a Toxic State | By Alessandro Cinque
Peru is the leading producer of gold, silver, and lead in Latin America and the 2nd of copper globally. Mining is the driving force of its economy, which has been growing since the 2000s. In 2019 mining accounted for 60% of exports and 9% of GDP, more than twice the amount of income from tourism. However, there is a dark side: millions of people-mostly native populations living in small communities-are forced to share their land, air and water with the mining sites that are growing along the Andes Mountain range. And as a result they have seen the environment and their living conditions deteriorate considerably over the past 20 years.
February 24, 2020 In February, the Quiulacocha community in Cerro de Pasco celebrates Carnival. It is a well-known traditional festival. Residents meet in the central square of the village to dance and play music while wearing traditional clothes. It is customary to drink alcohol. Many people from the rest of Peru come to Quiulacocha to participate in the celebration. The whole celebration is sponsored by the mining company Volcan that, in this way, tries to gain the favor of the population. The children of Cerro de Pasco live with chronic heavy metal poisoning. The Peruvian State supports the development of mining companies and does not take into consideration the situation of these children.
May 21, 2021 Ayaviri has no drinking water because its lakes and rivers are contaminated with mining waste. There are trucks that provide drinking water at 25 times the cost of water bought in Lima, while some neighborhoods only have access to water for 6 hours a week. Thus, water resources are scarce for the population, while large amounts are taken and used by the mining company for mining. As a result, the fields are barren and the few crops grown are toxic and not enough to sustain families. Since 1996, Peru’s Ministry of Health has been sampling children’s blood lead levels twice a year: 80% of them have above-average lead levels, some even more than three times what the United States considers the maximum acceptable level. Chronic lead poisoning in children causes developmental delays, seizure disorders, organ dysfunction and even death.
April 25, 2021 Santos Perez Moza, 50, washes in the river. During the time of Covid, in order to meet World Health Organization guidelines, many people increased their consumption of river water. Trying in this way to combat Covid, but exposing themselves even more to heavy metals in the water.
August 16, 2019. Posed portrait of Doroteo Paniura. Doroteo says that since mining began at the Las Bambas mine, his family’s living conditions have worsened and poverty has increased. “Whenever there are social conflicts, the government declares a state of emergency, because this gives the police the power to restore order, even through the unjustified use of force. I was shot during the protests because I was asking for my animals to return to graze in the areas that are now owned by the mine”. Doroteo has eight children that he can no longer support. “Since the opening of Las Bambas here, no one practices barter anymore, everyone wants the money the mine brought in.”
March 16, 2021 The southern Peruvian mining corridor connects the Las Bambas mine, in the Apurimac region, with the Tintaya and Antapaccay mines, in the Espinar province, reaching the port of Matarani, in the Arequipa region. The mining corridor is the only existing route for transporting extracted minerals – and the materials needed for extraction – from the mines to the port of Matarani, causing continuous truck movement, pollution and a huge amount of dust. The corridor meets the needs of the mine without regard to private property, dividing entire communities in half.
August 24, 2019 Mollendo, Cocachacra District. Tia Maria mining project. Indigenous communities protest against the opening of a new mine, throwing stones. Police respond with tear gas. Protests by locals have gone on for more than 60 days, making it impossible for trucks to access the PetrolPeru company to transport fuel between the country. The inhabitants want to safeguard their land – Valle de Tambo, a green and prosperous area of Peru – from contamination and the arrival of new mines.
August 20, 2019. Guadalupe Escalante, 47 years old, is looking at the mining corridor running a few meters away from her home. A long part of the mining corridor is not paved: the maintenance of the roads is a source of social conflict between the inhabitants of the communities, the government, and the mining companies. Because of the disputes, often neither party takes care of the roads. The continuous movement of trucks (up to 1200 per day) causes an unbearable spread of dust along the road, which completely invades the communities nearby, settling on crops that deteriorate. The dust contains heavy metal particles and enters through the windows of Guadalupe’s old house. “During the night, when I lie in my bed, I can not breathe”.
April 28, 2021 Discharge dams from the Buona Ventura mine in the rural community of Mimosa, Huancavelica province. Indigenous people have been living with this dump for 67 years, which contaminates their crops and makes their water unusable. Local communities have no choice but to use the water from these rivers for drinking, cooking, washing themselves and their clothes, feeding their animals and irrigating their fields.
This Project is a journey of 5 years covering 20000 km and 35 mining communities, showing the impact of a government that violates the rights of indigenous people in the name of profit. Photographed along the “corredor-minero” this project shows social, health and environmental consequences of living near these mines. And, due to corruption in the local governments, the indigenous communities receive no benefits from the mining profits and continue to live in poverty. Mining also plunders water in large quantities for extraction, creating arid fields and causing the death of livestock. Agriculture and farming, which were the main sources of survival, can no longer sustain these Andean communities.
May 21, 2021. The enormous amount of dust rich in heavy metal particles that is raised by trucks passing by sits on top of every belonging of the people living along the mining corridor. Residents try to cope as best as they can, but coughs and respiratory problems are the order of the day. Moreover, the continuous traffic of heavy vehicles on those roads causes strong vibrations in the ground, which create deep cracks in the houses.
May 25, 2021 Drone view of the Tintaya mine, Espinar, Peru. Large portions of territory have been purchased by a powerful multinational company (Glencore) that shapes the huge mining complexes of Tintaya, Antapaccay and Coroccohuaycco (today about 40% of the district’s territory is granted to mining companies) causing a sharp deterioration of the indigenous population and creating a huge imbalance between the lifestyles of those who work in the mines and those who do not. The major problems that afflict the territories and populations of the Espinar area are the contamination of water with heavy metals and the lack of water due to mining activity.
August 9, 2018 Farmers put out fire in a crop field. 380 hectares burned, 40 families were affected. The problem of fires often afflicts the territories around the city of Espinar and other mining towns, due to the fine dust that makes the crops more flammable. The lack of water does not make firefighting easier. The extinction is done with blankets, sweaters and clothes of any kind, by the farmers. With the animals are dead because of the water and their land incinerated, surviving becomes difficult.
May 21, 2021 Potatoes are part of the tradition and folklore of Peru. There are more than 3000 native potatoes in the country. It is the main source of carbohydrates and almost every family grows it. In mining cities, unlike tourist cities, the cultivation of potatoes is put at great risk by contamination.
August 23, 2018. A man shows his X-ray. He explains that due to inhaling large amounts of dust containing heavy metal particles from mining, his health has deteriorated. The same has happened to many of his acquaintances. The dust not only enters the respiratory tract, but also contaminates groundwater and rivers, soil and crops. According to local hospitals, the percentage of people suffering from Silicosis is very high in mining towns.
May 21, 2021 The town of Ayaviri, before the mine arrived, lived on cheese and milk. Ayaviri’s cheese was exported all over Peru, reaching as far as Lima and Cusco. Due to water contamination, the cows began to produce less milk and of low quality. Thus, the economic income of the breeders dropped significantly and cheese producers have difficulty selling it outside the city, the nearby markets do not want “contaminated cheese”. In the picture, the level of drought of the land is clear. This land does not produce vegetables, so people find themselves without the inputs due from agriculture and animal husbandry.
August 16, 2018 Grimalda De Cuno in her home is commiserating with her stillborn calf the day before. Because of water polluted with heavy metals, many animals die from drinking from the river, or are stillborn. Livestock have been destroyed over the years, worsening the living conditions of already impoverished farmers and ranchers. In the past 6 years, Grimalda’s family has lost 21 cows, all the sheep, and the 4 llamas they had.
August 14, 2019 The village of Nueva Fuerabamba was built in 2014/2015 by the Las Bambas mine for the indigenous people of the Fuerabamba community who were dispossessed of their land and homes; there are almost 660 people. New Fuerabamba is conceived as a modern and functional city, but the people are not used to the new lifestyle imposed. Animals graze along the concrete roads. According to Gregorio Roja Paniura, representative of the Community of New Fuerabamba, in the last 2/3 years about 20 people have died because of the depression. No urban plan or land analysis regulates the construction of New Fuerabamba. The cemetery was located quite far from the city center and was built on rocks. It makes it difficult to dig graves. The residents of New Fuerabamba consider it an abuse.
March 23, 2021 Silvia Chilo Choque, 40, as she washes her son with cerebral palsy Julio César Chuahuayo Chilo, 13. Due to water scarcity many people wash with rainwater in the rainy season. In the dry season they use contaminated water from the river, boiling it first and then putting chlorine in it. Because of all this long process, many times people are able to shower 1 time a week.
The little water that remains is contaminated by a high presence of heavy metals, as is reflected in the blood of the population, causing health issues like anemia, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, cancer, and congenital malformations that local clinics are unable to handle. The lands are devastated by huge excavations, new infrastructures and toxic waste deposits. Peru, a Toxic State is an example of the damage caused by neocolonialism in South America, when the neoliberal policies do not even stop the violation of human rights. And the cultural identity of people who worship Pacha Mama, Mother Earth, is devastated by these effects.
Abril 23, 2021 The Santa Barbara mine is the oldest mine in Peru. During Spanish colonialism, indigenous Peruvians were enslaved to work there. The mine was in operation from 1566 to 1975. Today, the mine has been submitted to UNESCO as a property of historical interest. The city of Huancavelica was built only a few kilometers away from the remains of this mine. According to local people it was built on the waste of the Santa Barbara mining company. Even today some houses are not paved and thanks to the studies of a researcher at the University of North Carolina has been shown that the level of Mercury in the houses is above the maximum allowed.
Alessandro Cinque is a photojournalist based in Lima. His work delves into mining’s devastating impact on indigenous and their lands. Alessandro has been documenting environmental contamination and public health concerns among the communities of campesinos living along Peru’s mining corridor. In 2017, working in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, he met a 53yo woman who told him that she got cancer because the water in her village was highly contaminated. Since then, Alessandro has committed to photograph the effects of the pollution that permeates the crops, livestock, and homes of the people residing near mining sites. Alessandro’s attention to social and environmental issues affecting minorities has often driven his work.
In 2019, while studying at the ICP in New York, he portrayed Williamsburg’s Italo-American community, and traveled to Arizona to photograph the abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo territories. His photos were published in the New York Times, NYT Lens Blog, NatGeo, MarieClaire, Libèration, L’Espresso. In 2019, his work on Peru won POYi’s Issue Reporting Picture Story first place. In December 2019, Alessandro moved to Lima to become more acquainted with Peru’s culture and society. He began contributing to Reuters’ coverage of Latin-America while expanding his long term project. In 2021, he is a recipient of the National Geographic Society’s emergency fund for journalist Covid-19 and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting fund.
Photo Essay edited by Alejandra Martínez Moreno