Women attending a meeting in the diocese led by Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno, on water rights in their community.

CNS PHOTO | WALTER HUPIU

Women attending a meeting in the diocese led by Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno, on water rights in their community.

February 11, 2013
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Development and Peace is supporting the Peruvian bishops' conference in its work with local communities to fight for a cleaner environment in which to raise their children.

Much of the advocacy has surrounded the pollution created by an American-owned smelter in La Oroya, a mining town in the Peruvian Andes where 97 per cent of children have dangerous levels of lead in their blood.

At the centre of the controversy is the local bishop, Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, who has received several death threats for his outspoken stance against the smelter's practices.

Archbishop Barreto will be in Edmonton Feb. 12-13, as the Share Lent visitor for Development and Peace, to raise Canadian awareness of the problems caused by minerals extractive industries in Latin America.

La Oroya is rated as the fifth most polluted city in the world because of the smelter run by Doe Run Peru, a subsidiary of U.S-based Renco Group, which has contaminated the region with toxic levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic.

While the smelter closed in 2009, Doe Run plans to reopen the factory, which continues to contaminate the area even while closed, researcher Fernando Serrano told a sub-committee of the U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs committee last July.

Barreto also testified at the hearing and told of an empty coffin with his name on it that sat inside the closed smelter.

Earlier, in March, two days after releasing a statement calling for the smelter to meet environmental regulations before it is allowed to re-open, he received another death threat.

"They want to silence the voice of truth," Barreto said in a statement. "We are not going to turn back. We will stand firm in the defence of life."

When Doe Run bought the plant from Peru's state-run mining company in 1997, it was required to upgrade environmental controls. The deadline for reduction of sulphur dioxide emissions has been extended several times, and the company has sought another extension so that it can resume operations.

Barreto has repeatedly stated that local residents should not have to choose between jobs and a healthy environment.

Since 2011, the archbishop has been the head of the social justice commission of the Latin American bishops' council.

While poverty rates in parts of the continent are falling, in part because of increased natural resource extraction, Barreto has said the economic benefits of these industries must reach those who continue to lack the most basic services.

"The Church continues to criticize the dominant economic system," he says, noting that the continent's bishops in 2007 called for a new economic model based on the social doctrine of the Church.

EDMONTON AGENDA

During his Edmonton visit, Barreto will attend a potluck supper with the Peruvian community at its office, 10370-60 Ave., on Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

He will meet with local media and launch Development and Peace's Share Lent campaign at noon Feb. 13 in the Assembly Hall of the archdiocesan Pastoral and Administrative Offices, 8421-101 Ave.

Barreto will also celebrate the 5:30 p.m. Ash Wednesday Mass with Archbishop Richard Smith at St. Joseph's Basilica, an event which will be followed by a light lunch and a talk in the basilica's O'Leary Hall.

(With files from Catholic News Service)