Esmeralda Larota and Karem Luque are touring Europe, including the United Kingdom, to make visible the fight against mining extractivism in their region. They will be carrying out various public activities to share their experiences and testimonies about the impact of mining on human rights, cultural, environment, women indigenous rights and ecology, by Glencore’s Tintaya-Antapaccay-Coroccohuayco mining operations in Espinar, Peru. This tour is supported by the Peru Support Group and CAFOD. 

Esmeralda Larota is a leader from the community of Huancané Bajo, department of Espinar, Cusco province. She is a member of the Association of Women for the Defence of their Territory and Culture K’ana, AMDETEK.  She has been affected by toxic metals found in her body, as she lives in a zone that is heavily affected due to its proximity to the tailings dam of Ccamacmayo. 

Karem Luque is the coordinator of collective rights and the environment at the Cusco-based organisation Derechos Humanos sin Fronteras, DHSF. She specialises in environmental and human health and coordinates the Technical Table of Human and Environmental Health. She has been working in DHSF for over 6 years. During that time, she has accompanied activities of environmental monitoring and the registering of people affected by toxic metals.

During the tour in London, the women indigenous environmental defenders will have several advocacy activities. The main meetings and events will be with the Peru Desk Officer of the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office, Canning House Parliamentary, Local Authority Pensions Fund Forum, London Mining Network and interviews with media. 

Photo: Emily Mulville from CAFOD, Karem Luque, Esmeralda Larota & Ana Reyes-Hurt from Peru Support Group

Mining in Espinar 

Copper mining in Espinar began in the 1980s, when it was run by state company Minera Especial Tintaya. Since the privatisation of the industry, pushed for in the 90s by the Fujimori government, the exploitation of the sites of Tintaya and later Antapaccay have been in the hands of BHP Billiton, Xstrata and finally Glencore, who bought Xstrata in 2013. Operations at Espinar can be separated into three different stages. The first stage encompasses the period of exploitation at the Tintaya site up until the end of the 2000s.

The second stage began in 2010 when the Tintaya expansion project, Antapaccay, was approved, with work starting in 2012. A third stage concerns future exploitation in the Coroccohuayco area, where exploration began in 2010. In 2018 the company requested the approval of a modified Environmental Impact Assessment for the project formerly known as Proyecto Antapaccay – Expansión Tintaya – Integración Coroccohuayco. This is one of the permits necessary to begin this stage of the operation, which could go on for over 20 years. 

Photo: Karem Luque & Esmeralda Larota in the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office after a meeting with the Peru Desk Officer. 

Social conflict, human right and criminalisation of protest

Espinar has a long history of conflict, the most significant recent examples being in 2005 over the demand for the renegotiation of the Convenio Marco, and the 2012 conflict over environmental concerns. The outbreaks of conflict in Espinar have been characterised by high levels of repression and violence and the criminalisation of protest.

The Peruvian government has in the last decade implemented several mechanisms to criminalise protest. In Espinar this has resulted in increased penalties for public disturbance and for threats to security such as in attacks against production infrastructure. This has been used against protest leaders in Espinar.

Espinar has also been a good example of the disproportionate use of the State of Emergency in conflict contexts, which in practice involves the suspension of human rights and interinstitutional agreements between the police and private companies to protect extractive projects.

Environmental impacts and threats to the right to a healthy environment

Espinar also has a long history of lawsuits filed by local people over contamination of the environment and its impact on health and on the community’s way of life. Multiple studies on blood samples from local people and on drinking water have found high levels of lead, cadmium, arsenic and other metals. This seems to be linked to increased illnesses in the area.

Despite this, the government has failed to establish a causal relationship between mining operations and environmental contamination. Neither the state nor the mining company have taken responsibility for these health impacts and their actions to mitigate them and treat people have been insufficient. Amnesty International recently found that the water in Espinar is not fit for human consumption.

The courts have ruled that the water and public health situation in Espinar needs addressing urgently. The communities are demanding damages, with the disregard they have experienced fuelling a lot of mistrust in the Coroccohuayco expansion project. In 2021 the Cusco regional government declared a public health emergency in Espinar due to the limited water supply.

The impact on women

Women and men are not impacted equally by mining – women report being worse affected by contamination. Amnesty International has collected testimonies showing that the contamination of natural resources like water is more of a burden on women and their everyday responsibilities, such as cooking. Women are more vulnerable to poverty and to environmental damage as they tend to be in charge of securing food for the family and often do farming work.

While men tend to seek work from the mining companies, women have to face the difficulties in providing food for the family and keeping them healthy, while also promoting local development. This affects women’s (more than men’s) mental health and wellbeing, with many experiencing depression and anxieties around survival.

Despite their increased vulnerability to being impacted by contamination and the role they play in fighting for it to be addressed, women are less involved at the negotiating table or in prior consultation processes. Difficulties in participating in communal and public spaces are linked to the discrimination they face in these spaces.

Threats to collective rights, impacts of exploration and prior consultation

The risks posed by the expansion of the project Integración Coroccohuayco centre on the effects of mining suffered by the communities of Huini Coroccohuayco and Pacopata, on whose territory the expansion will be located. The expansion project also brings to light concerns around the approval of the Modified Environmental Impact Assessment and its baselines, and the prior consultation process.

Multiple NGOs have identified significant impacts on the environment and the communities from the exploration phase of this project, including reduced water supply, (presumably contaminated) water outcrops, reduced quality of water for human and animal consumption, resulting in impacts on health and a loss of biodiversity.

There are disputes around the effectiveness of the prior consultation process and whether this is actually helping to protect communities. Especially in the context of possible displacement, the influence of prior consultation can be significant in preventing negative impacts on communities. However, when such consultation is taking place following the approval of a Modified Environmental Impact Assessment, questions must be asked about whether this can even have any influence at all.