By FRANK BAJAK
They didn’t expect riches when they and dozens of other Quechua-speaking families sold out to an international mining consortium. But they did believe the open-pit Antamina mine would lift their long-neglected highlands district from poverty, provide steady jobs, decent health care and schools.
Maria Magdalena Velasquez, who could not read or write, signed away her family’s land with a thumbprint in 1999. She and her kin looked on as hired hands dismantled their homes on windswept moorlands before trucking the families down to the adjacent valley — their sheep herds, fields of potatoes, oats and alfalfa abandoned.
“It was a disaster to see,” said Luis Marzano, her eldest son, who was 27 years old at the time. “They burned the roofs and knocked down the walls.”
Twenty years ago, this rugged, mineral-rich Andean nation bent over backward to attract multinational mining companies, and became Latin America’s undisputed economic growth leader.
But the boom has been more of a curse for thousands of peasant families like the Marzanos, who saw the $49,000 they got for their land evaporate as they struggled to adjust to an uprooted life
While colossal copper, gold, lead, tin and silver pits helped Peru’s economy more than double in size, the people in the rural highlands that they dominate have been largely left behind, battling one environmental disaster after another as expanding mines contaminated their water, air and livestock. Promises of steady work and modern benefits remain mostly unfulfilled.
Instead, across Peru’s mine-pocked highlands, lax government regulation and frustration has led to a growing fury of protests. In 2012, security forces shot and killed eight people protesting against two of the country’s biggest mining projects. In April, Peru counted 81 active environmental disputes between mines and neighbouring communities, according to the national ombudsman’s office.