Friday, June 26, 2009

New York Billionaire Destroying Community in Peru

Last week at the Green-Pink Western Regional Training, co-sponsored by the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and the Feminist Majority Foundation, we learned about the underlying connections between environmental conservation and the strengthening of women’s global rights and health. Today’s New York Times article called “In the Andes, a Toxic Site Also Provides a Livelihood” demonstrates a real life example of this connection.

Ira Rennert is a New York billionaire who owns Renco, an industrial empire that invests in foreign companies. Renco owns the smelting company Doe Run Peru in La Oroya, a town of 35,000 embedded in the Peruvian Andes which has been named one of the world’s 10 worst polluted places by the Blacksmith Institute, a non-profit that studies toxic sites around the world. According to a study in 2005, 97% of the children in La Oroya have toxic levels of lead in their blood as a result of the emissions coming from Doe Run Peru’s smokestacks.

Although Renco is under international pressure to clean the contamination it is producing, the company claims that they cannot do so due to financial difficulties (probably a lie considering the company attempted to buy out Saab this month). In fact, Doe Run Peru has threatened to close rather than take care of the contamination. Terminating operations of Doe Run Peru may improve the health of the people of La Oroya in the long run, but it would also result in the loss of over 3,000 jobs which would destroy the livelihood of the men, women, and children of the already destitute town who depend on Doe Run Peru as a source of income.

The presence of companies like Doe Run Peru as a result of irresponsible foreign investment puts women and children between a rock and a hard place. Thousands of women depend on Doe Run Peru to feed their children and support their families; however, they cannot afford the health care necessary to treat symptoms of lead poisoning. These women are currently living without any job security and on the other hand with the destructive consequences of pollution. Renco and other American investors have the responsibility to maintain environmental and health standards to conserve the environment and the rights of their workers.

Rosa Amaro, a Peruvian woman quoted in the article said “What I still fail to understand is why we are exposed to the risks of American investment, but not to the environmental protections enjoyed by the citizens of the United States.” In so many cases, women and children are the groups that will suffer most as a result of this destructive and irresponsible spending on the part of New York male billionaires such as Ira Rennert.


Corey said...

Hi there. Great blog. In my experience, when a post goes up about Doe Run, it is often followed by an "anonymous" comment re: how much Doe Run has supposedly done to clean up La Oroya. I wanted to provide a link to my blog, which discusses how conditions have (or have not) changed since Doe Run came to La Oroya.


Laura said...

It is incredible what greed can do. "Financial difficulties" of cleaning up the mess that they have created? Companies really need to be responsible for the pollution that they incur.

Bruce said...

Look into a group called Filomenas, based in La Oroya: Miners wives who for generations have been struggling to raise awareness and deall with the (figurative and literal) fallout of the smelting operation.