Arsenic and mercury were found in the bodies of people in the districts near the Coata river basin, in the Puno region, which is being contaminated by mining tailings. Local leaders claim that the State has failed to protect their health.
The Unified Defense Front (Frente de Defensa Unificado) against the contamination of the Coata River basin announced that they will go on indefinite strike this Monday, November 9. At a press conference, leaders expressed demands for the Government to take urgent measures in the five affected districts.
"In the wells for human consumption there have been found heavy metals in the water, fecal coliforms. And now, arsenic and mercury have been confirmed in the bodies of our brothers who are sick and confined to their beds," said Feliz Suasaca, a health and environmental defender and president of the Unified Defense Front.
The Ministry of Health confirmed the presence of arsenic and mercury in 34 people, including two children under 5 years of age.
More than 100,000 people live In the affected districts of Coata, Huata Capachica, Caracoto and Juliaca. Local leaders claimed that the authorities ignore their requests when they are summoned to meet with the community. According to Suasaca, “the officials that come to these meetings are the ones that have no decision-making power".
Roxana Vilca, leader of Huata, pointed out that the pollutionp of the bay of Lake Titicaca has been going on for many years. In that time, the different government ministries have made many commitments, but none of them has been fulfilled.
On the other hand, Yolanda Zurita, president of the National Platform for People Affected by Toxic Metals (Plataforma Nacional de Afectados y Afectadas por Metales Tóxico) specified that "care is useless if the sources of contamination are not going to be reduced." In this regard, she indicated that the Ministry of Energy and Mines of Perú must enforce clear rules for mining companies.
Leaders demand attention
In a statement backed by 89 national and international institutions, the leaders of the affected areas pointed out their main demands. Among them, is that the Ministry of Housing expands the provision of drinking water cisterns among affected residents.
In addition, it is of key importance for the leaders to secure health diagnosis and treatment plans for people affected by toxic metals, and the care of specialized doctors or the construction of health centers with specialized laboratories in the Coata river basin.
Finally, the leaders also demanded that the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (Presidencia del Consejo de Ministros, PCM in its Spanish acronym) recognize by means of a supreme decree the regional technical roundtable that has been operating in the country since 2014.
Translated by: Giada Ferrucci