Part of our History: The earth our home - in San Marcos and San Juan de Iscos, Peru

San Marcos PeruSan Marcos Peru

Little Sister Victorinha writes from San Marcos in the north-east Andes:

Until about fifteen years ago, this part of the country was entirely rural, and people lived solely from agriculture and raising animals, even though their land held an abundance of gold and other minerals.

The arrival of the transnational mining companies was cataclysmic. The rural people were the most affected due to the contamination of the earth and air, and the loss of their vital irrigation canals. Many came down with health problems; they lost their animals, and the fish in the streams disappeared.

There's a scandalous contradiction in the fact that the greatest poverty is found right where the most lucrative mines are located. In the area of San Marcos, we've suffered from the arrival of several mining businesses which haven't got the slightest respect for the local people or their land - which they want to occupy and exploit, diverting all the rivers for their own use. The people struggle for their rights, to save their farms, orchards, and pastures.

These businesses count on the unconditional support of the government, which doesn't care about the peasants who live here. These people are among the poorest in the region, and they have no one to defend them, since local law enforcement and the judiciary are all in the pocket of the mining companies. Their only help comes from traditional organizations like the 'rondas campesinas' (local groups which defend the rights of the people), a few priests, and some secular professional organizations.

Since no one listens to poor people in general, and especially not to peasants, the diocesan assembly decided to form a Commission to defend the local area and its people. They asked me to participate. It seemed important to us to do so, as a gesture of solidarity - the people have welcomed us with so much love and friendship over the past 20 years, even though, given our age, we could no longer work or farm with them. The Commission keeps track of the abuses perpetrated by the mining companies towards the peasants. It publishes a newsletter giving accurate information and tries to foster awareness among the people so they can understand what's going on. Most of the local means of communication have been 'bought' by the mining companies. It works to unite public opinion in support of human rights.

It's a very unequal fight! The mining companies take all the wealth. Their owners have already carried off much more gold than was taken during the entire Spanish Conquest, while the majority of the Peruvian people continue to struggle for survival, day after day, in grinding poverty. Outside Peru, people tend to think that the country is developing, because government propaganda publishes figures for gross domestic production which show non-stop growth. But, alas, what's really growing non-stop, is the gap between the poor and the rich. A small, privileged group is growing wealthier, while the rest lack basic necessities, and the quality of life for families is deteriorating.

The struggle to protect the environment, and the lives of our rural brothers and sisters, is where we live the 'preferential option for the poor' today.

Villagers from San MarcosVillagers from San Marcos

Villagers of San Marcos gathered to demand the withdrawal of the Yanacocha mining company which had been conducting mineral searches on their land without their knowledge or consent. Penalties for such demonstrations are harsh. Seven of these people are threatened with 5 years in prison for blocking a highway in protest.