Margarita Anchiraica

March 11, 2009  |  Case Studies, Women & Mining

Margarita lives with her mother and two young sons in Glorieta de Mayoc, a village 80km east of Lima. Mining has been a feature of this Andean village since colonial times; and large-scale mining has brought business, jobs and environmental problems.

Through chronic exposure to mining dust and toxic tailings, members of the community have contracted arsenical dermatitis and many other dermatological diseases. Toxic particles present in the air have badly affected the children, and skin and respiratory problems are prevalent.

“My struggle to end the mining pollution of my hometown is the story of my life, but I am continually intimidated, verbally abused and receive death threats”

Margarita’s adobe cottage and small farming plot are adjacent to one of the mine’s tailings tip. To escape dust and noise, most of her neighbours sold their properties but Margarita stayed. “This is my mother’s home and we have nowhere to go,” she explains. Margarita has dedicated much of the past ten years to fighting the public health and environmental ramifications of the mine, but to little avail.

In 2003 Margarita and the Committee of People Affected by the activities of the Tamboraque mine took their complaint to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the Organisation of American States, alleging violations to the right to life, health, property and freedom of assembly. The complaint was upheld.

In 2006 the Canadian Gold Hawk bought the Tamboraque mine and renamed it Caricancha. Production and processing of gold and silver followed a year later. Margarita says, “as soon as the new owners took over, the soft-spoken polite Canadian managers and workers began putting relentless pressure on me.” They claimed that the OAS complaint affected their image and caused problems with the authorities. “They wanted me to withdraw the complaint, and in exchange they promised work and handouts.”

Most members of the Committee gave in to the mine, and gradually Margarita became the only person refusing to accommodate the mining company. This act of defiance brought upon her the anger of mine workers and the community; to this day she suffers a constant barrage of humiliation and harassment. “Stones were thrown onto the roofs of our houses…one of the mine workers…came to my door to insult me and threaten to blow me up,” she reported. Her niece was threatened with rape, the main electricity cables were deliberately cut and an angry mob threatened to throw her into the river. Despite threats, attacks and intimidation the police have offered her only sporadic protection.

The whole village is divided between those who favour the mine and those like Margarita who push for strict environmental standards. “My struggle to end the mining pollution of my hometown is the story of my life, but I am continually intimidated, verbally abused and receive death threats,” said Margarita.

In 2007, through its 100 percent subsidiary Compañía Minera San Juan, Gold Hawk constructed a large tailings pond to contain more than a ton of toxic waste left by the extraction process.

In May 2008 after ground displacements were detected in the tailing areas, the mine was closed. In July the government declared the area in a state of emergency due to landslide risks, which threatened the river Rimac, the main source of water for the entire city of Lima.

As a result of soil contamination Margarita is not able to farm any more. “Life is a struggle,” she says. Her cleaning job with the council provides her with less than US$3 a day. Her battle with the authorities is not over yet; the mine is still closed but new permits have been granted. The company is expected to restart operations in mid 2009.

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