photo of person from Peru Cerro de Pasco
Peru glossary


(PERU 16)








La Oroya





Today, we are with Don Amador Pérez Mandujano. Don Amador is originally from La Oroya, where he still lives. He knows a lot about the history of Oroya, but especially about the daily life of this community, that has suffered a lot because of the fumes from the foundry. We are now going to chat with Don Amador.
Section 1
Could you tell us something about your family history? Are your parents and grandparents from la Oroya?
Yes, Senor representative of your institution, it is an honour for me to be able to communicate with you about different aspects of life in Oroya: some are good and others are not so good, like the fumes and relaves (mining waste). For me it has been a painful experience because of the changes in the area, starting in the time of my grandparents, because of the situation created by the company.

Where do your grandparents come from?
My grandparents are from La Oroya. They are real Oyorinos (people from La Oroya), from San Jerónimo of Oroya, a campesino community of this area La Oroya. My parents are from Huyanacanchas, they are of Tarma by origin. But they have lived most of their life in La Oroya.
Truly, they have suffered a lot in their lives because of the mining company, the former Cerro de Pasco Copper Corporation, because of the fumes. And those are real stories, not invented ones. These are stories that are real and palpable. According to the stories of my ancestors, my elders told me and have experienced this from 1944 until today. When the former Cerro de Pasco began to operate with its chimneys and its fumes in the region of Yauli - La Oroya, it was a way of not respecting people’s dignity, because the Oroyinos of San Jerónimo used to work with livestock and some with agriculture. In those times of the year 1949 (I cannot testify an exact date), even the potatoes that were planted were practically destroyed [by the pollution] and nothing could be harvested. Most of the highland animals began to die from an unknown disease, according to the story of my grandparents. All of this changed their lives. So my parents, in 1919 or 1920, with more experience and at the age of approximately 18 to 20, told us that the fumes were something bad that affected the residents themselves, and that the situation was critical. As you can tell, the situation did not allow you to have a good experience.
Section 2
And your father, what did he work in? Did he work for the foundry, and in the construction of the foundry?
No, no, he did not work in that. He thought that if you went to the Company it was as if you were serving the enemy. Maybe it was an exaggeration, but he thought of it that way. But sincerely it is not like that. The development of our nation was due also to mining, but the gringos (westerners, foreigners, in this context North Americans who ran, owned the mines) should not have provoked the burning, the burning of everything … it is as if the company burned everything. It was as if a fire had burned the house. Suddenly, from one moment to the next, you were left with nothing. The landscape started to be transformed and the hills were scorched.

And your grandparents and parents – didn’t they know that the company was going to build a foundry?
To tell you the truth, they were aware that something was going to be built, but no one knew what it was going to be. The company did not speak clearly to the campesinos. They [the mining company] said that the installations were not going to change the landscape, that is to say they offered the campesino communities things but they deceived them. In front of where the company was installed, there was another community and in La Oroya, we - the older community members - were the dwellers of La Oroya. This was a rural landscape, a road would go to Jauja and Jalacapampa to take you to the nearby haciendas (estate farms) normally. Then time passed and the socio-economic development that there was before in La Oroya, started to deteriorate and everything changed completely. This was a big change.

How does the Cerro de Pasco company justify the buying of land around the community of Santa María?
They argued that they wanted to set up a textile plant, that is, to transform our wool – that’s what they told us. But the truth is different, they really only fooled us. Can you imagine the difference between what they actually built and a textile plant?
Our community did not react or – better said - it reacted late, after the mineral was already being transformed (processed), when the foundry started to produce such massive amounts. And they would say that this would bring progress and development to the community of La Oroya, and that our communities would not lag behind in such a backward state. What is true is that there began to be tremendous losses for the campesinos and the communities began the lawsuits for the rehabilitation [of the land] due to the fumes and tailings. So then we were able to win the trial, won by the leaders of our grandparents’ time. But did this stop them. No! They were back in a week or two weeks. The comuneros (registered community members with rights and responsibilities) saw the loss of all their animals, the plantations. The majority of the comuneros liked to be farmers and to work with livestock, that is what they did. They did not want to work in a company, but later they become divided. Forty comuneros migrated to the “Anexo de Cari” which they were able to buy with the money from the successfully won case. They received as compensation 80 soles (Peruvian currency). And 40 left and 40 stayed in La Oroya. In this way, some communities started disappearing and some stayed, but it was no longer the same because there had been a complete change in La Oroya. This whole change... to be honest, it is my parents who experienced this. They have told me about this and my grandparents. That is our story.
Section 3
In what year were you born?
I was born in ’44. In my first days of life, surely, things were already very different… distinct from my parents’ time. A very different country, in a metallurgical city in South America, then it had the highest chimney in the world, that is what they told the children of my age. When I was only 5 or 6 years old, I remember that La Oroya was very different to other cities, different to Tarma, or La Selva, La Costa.
This place was deserted, with white rocks and the fumes, which were not as bad as they are now. But still they would make our hands get llagas (ulcers) on some occasions, and especially in the summer time... the arsenic would begin to fall like snow and one could notice it and feel rather uncomfortable. Not a little, one could say, so that we could not be at peace. But you know we got accustomed and necessity… work… people just started getting used to it and this is how we are now.
But then my parents encouraged me to study. In those days, one just didn’t go and study, as it had only recently become obligatory. In my first few years here, in the Ricardo Bentin primary school, which is now also a secondary school. After primary school I studied in what today is Mariscal Ramón Castilla High School. In my time it was a metallurgical school, and I had a very positive experience. At the time there was an agreement with the company which supported the high school.

What was their purpose in this?
They were hoping that the boys leaving the metallurgical school would have the possibility of working in the company in the metallurgical group, in the technical section of the company. In the technical aspects, the students from this high school were well recognised and the High School became prestigious. Only 280 students could be taken into the boarding school at a time. But despite the fact that there were links with the mining company, the students would raise issues about what can be done to develop the area. Should we try to wait? The situation that we lived in at the time, we couldn’t have done anything, because we were just beginning to study, but we were already talking about the pollution, we were worried about it.
In that company, at the time it was called the Cerro de Pasco Corporation, when there were gringos in the management. As far as I can remember, there were 30 scientists who were running the company, they were probably doing the environmental impact studies, in order to improve things, but in practical terms they did not make anything better. In fact, they let things become worse, because the smoke was still there and this affected the campesinos, ganaderos (livestock rearers) and the farmers. It is really a pity to have to say this.
Did you know that before the smoke rose the company would process 500 tons daily of concentrated minerals like lead, and silver? Even gold, and other minerals which were later processed, but at the time they were just expelled through the chimney. They say that once Japanese scientists came and offered to buy a piece of land from the owners of the company to build a plant in the higher part solely to process the smoke. But the Americans, who supposedly had the experience, asked themselves, “Why should they do that?” They begin to analyse the reasons and found that they could actually reprocess some of the waste materials and get some gold, indio (?), bismuth and other materials that were discarded in our area and that were damaging the environment, the farmers and the whole area. Not only La Oroya, but also Huari, Choquepalpa, Suitucancha and a part of Huayacancha. Everything disappeared… and also Huaycacuchan which has reached an agreement after trials and they have moved to a place near Tarma, called Hualquin. Many of the comuneros… many leave, very few stay. Even at the time, in that time, the people began to work for the company, not like the older generation who had refused, like my parents. At the time, the majority of the people of the company came from La Oroya, Huagmapancha, Sacco, Paccha, all the communities affected by the smoke. Some of the communities reached settlements with the company so that in exchange for the damages and harm, the men were hired by the company and so have work. That is how it happened.
Section 4
This was a great change compared to the initial attitude of confronting the company. Why do you think this happened?
Well, yes, it was a great change, but it was due, I think, to the fact that it was difficult to imagine we would have any way of closing the company down, which was all powerful, and so the comuneros tried to take advantage of the situation, to get something to be able to continue living. I think that is what happened. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to happen that way, but that is how it was. But some communities continued to fight against the company, that also happened since, as I told you, the campesino never got any compensation for the destruction of his land. That is how it is.
The smelter has produced hundreds of thousands of millions of dollars. They have taken the gold, the silver, but there hasn’t been equitable appropriate social development. They have destroyed the campesinos, the communities, and even their workers, who have been paid miserable salaries, get sick and whose families must live in small one-room houses. The people of the area have received very little, I don’t know how one can measure the development of the area or how we can evaluate it, other than by concrete facts, and they have not received almost nothing. Before we used to fish trout as a pastime from the Puente Cascabel which is wooden. In the swamp there we fished small trout.

Until what year was it possible to fish from the river?
Until 1958 approximately. And believe me - honestly – from then on everything changed due to the company: the rivers were contaminated, and all the beauty that our city La Oroya had had, was lost, including the river, the crystal clear river and the clear Mantaro river. People would wash themselves peacefully. The children, we would go and swim, because there were places with small beaches, where the happy children… had a chance to grow this way in spite of the altitude. It was very warm, clean, and what honestly worries me is the loss of human values. No one does anything to improve the environment, and [if] things get better it will sincerely be thanks to your work as a concerned group or person.
[Interview is interrupted for half an hour]

Section 5
How have your family and you personally faced this changing situation, what did you do?
With good fortune, I carry out the profession of carpenter. It is my parents’ profession, they taught me, they were artisans (craftsmen/craftswomen). Since my father no longer dedicated himself to agriculture, he had to find another activity, something else... he had to change his work. First he was a constructor, a builder. He started by building an undertaker’s establishment. He had the wood so he started a carpentry shop and with his three brothers they formed a new business. This is what I know about my family, and as I told you I inherited this and I continue to develop it, and with this I have supported my family and provided my children with an education. That is how it is.

And you did not like working for the foundry?
Well, no, no, I was not interested, because of other people’s references [to it?] I did not have much interest. There was also my father’s opinion which had influenced me. Also, my father said that I must learn the trade so that he could later put me in charge and in this way I would take over the business of the shop. And so I did, I agreed and learned carpentry.

And you never thought about leaving La Oroya?
No, honestly, no. Definitely no. I never thought this. I left only to study, to visit, but nothing else, that is how it was, I never wanted to settle in Lima or in any other city.

Did you spend your youth in La Oroya?
Yes, yes, I spent it here in La Oroya. I did my secondary and primary studies. My higher education I did in La Cantuta Enrique Guzmán and Valle University. I am presently teaching woodwork and decoration.

So you only went to Lima in order to study?
Well, that is true, I was in Chosica, where La Cantuta University is located. So I went to Lima which was nearby, but I only stayed long enough to do my studies and then I came back to La Oroya. My purpose was to study to improve my situation and to look after my family, their progress and the progress of my community. And that is where I stayed, even after I was married.…

Is your wife from La Oroya?
She is oyorina, originally from Tarma. She is a tarmeñita (person from Tarma)... her family is from Tarma. So we met each other here and we got married. I have been married for 26 years, with three children who are already young adults.

The three are young, and what do they do?
They are continuing in higher education. All three of them, one man and two young women.

What are your children studying, if you will forgive my intrusion Don Amado?
Well, my oldest son is studying in Lima University, and he’s already finishing this year, it’s already over as they say. My other daughter is studying language in the Catholic University and the youngest of my daughters is studying medicine. Yes, they are studying… Despite everything we as parents encouraged our children to study so they could be professionals.
Section 6
And do you think your children will stay in Lima or will they return to La Oroya?
I really don’t know what will happen, now things are different. I think that young people are more likely to try to look for new horizons, they want to go to find better horizons. I leave them the option of going, comparing and choosing. Maybe they will not return, but the fact that they are oroyinos by birth and family, they will always have contact and their roots will be here.

Do you think this is a change, for example, compared to what happened before? Did less people leave La Oroya then?
Well, get this! Before not only did people leave less, as you say, but people came to La Oroya from all over the place. This is why La Oroya grew to be a city, its number of inhabitants grew. Now it’s the opposite, that has changed. Before, when they established the foundry, the city that was a town and the rural areas changed completely. Now there is a crisis from all sides, it’s not the same anymore and the people, the young people especially, do not see much future [here], and we have to understand that.

Are the young people leaving [already]?
Yes, that’s how it is, but that doesn’t mean they’re forgetting everything, their land, their family. No, I don’t think this is how it is, due to my own experience with my children.

You have spoken of this with your children. What are they studying?
Yes, precisely, for example my oldest son is studying industrial engineering and he is trying to advise me on how to run our small family business. So I think that our young oyorino professionals, even though they don’t live in this city, they can contribute to its development. That we can expect of them, but to ask them to stay or to leave, that we can’t. The parents... the older generation must understand that things have changed, that things are not like they used to be, now is different, and people leave to find new opportunities. Before people would come to this area, now they are leaving, but what is important is to think about our land so that this place progresses, and we don’t start going backwards. Mining is important, it is something that nature gave the central region. Not only to the region but to our country. But mining should not only enrich a few, it should benefit everyone, especially the people from the regions, their communities. It cannot be that mining destroys agriculture, ranching. This must change, that is what the people from the area think, the comuneros, campesinos, that is what is necessary for prosperity.
This land is so wonderful that in actual fact we are letting it go to waste, we are throwing it away. I think that it is really a pity, that the youth should try to look for development in the agro-industry aspects as well as the industrial. This will help us to find more work and more opportunities. Today there is unemployment in La Oroya, before there wasn’t. The families must live more frugally, their children are malnourished and it’s not possible to develop this way. We must change these things, otherwise in a short time there will be no future for this town and we will lose everything, even our traditions....
Section 7
I understand that La Oroya is an old town...
Do you know where the word La Oroya comes from? I will tell you a story. According to history, there used to be a Hanging Bridge to cross the river. In the time of the Incas, it was up to 11km long. Packages of gold would be passed over the river. Then from one side they would yell “ORO” (gold) and when the gold reached the other side they would call “YA” (ok). So that is how it became popular. People started putting the two words together and it ended up being called Oroya. What do you think of the story that the old people of the community tell?

Very interesting... Tell me, do you think that the customs are being maintained or are they slowly being lost?
Some things have been kept, and these distinguish one town from another. Because I imagine that La Oroya differs in some way from Jauja, which is a bit further away - or differs with Tarma which is further down. The popular art of the Huarcaranza region, for example, which is part of the region, and the food products, for example the meat, or the products coming from the cow… this is being maintained.

What was or how was the huarcadanza? What does it represent?
The huarcachaza [sic] was danced by the warriors. During a battle between comuneros, for example, the strength of towns was sort of represented.
[Spanish original unclear]

Was it a dance? A particular date?
Yes, really, traditionally it takes place during the festivities of Saint Jerónimo. That is the exact date.

Is that in February?
No, it is not in February, it is on the 20th of July when the dances take place. That is the traditional date, the festivity of Saint Jerónimo is a deeply rooted tradition from the area. It is a custom from our land. The festivity always starts with a school parade, then there is a patriotic parade, and the party. A dinner with camaraderie, for the people in the party, while my neighbours from Santa Rosa del Saco, which is a neighbouring community, they will celebrate it all month. We only celebrate it a few days. It is not out of necessity that we do not have a bigger celebration, but it is because our economy does not allow us and because we are more modest and methodical than other towns. As you can see, the economic crisis even affects these celebrations, but we always try to maintain them even if they are more modest, we always try to maintain some of our customs. That is part of the inheritance which our parents and grandparents have left us and we will leave to our children.

And what other customs do you think will be kept?
Well, basically the festivals are a beautiful custom. We have the carnival celebration, that lasts for almost all of February and part of the month of March. That is in February, as you were asking before. Those carnivals are really nice, the parties are nice and the masquerades take place.
Section 8
What are the masquerades?
These are group dances, with everyone dressed the same and dancing the same way with their partners. There are typical carnival dances where comparsas (parades of dancers in costume) take place.

Could you name one?
Like the Santiaguito, it is a dance from this area, very beautiful. You should see this dance. The boys dance it and it is very beautiful.

I imagine that you danced it or do you still dance it?
Well, I danced it when I was young, now I don’t dance it any more. You dance that in the streets or in the big celebrations. When I dance now I only dance in family parties

There what do you dance?
Well, there I dance my huaynitos, my huaylas (traditional songs/dances) that is what I dance at my age.

And what is your opinion about the younger generation? Do you think that they like to dance the traditional dances or are they influenced by dances from other areas?
Well, one can say that it is not as it used to be. We are starting to lose some of what is ours. Now, the young prefer to dance modern dances: the chicha (a mixture of tropical and traditional music) and salsa, rock and things like that. That is what is happening here in La Oroya and in other cities with the invasion of music, radio, television, which did not exist before or there was less. However, despite all of this, I think that we all have our little hearts and deep inside our own [traditions] call out to us and we dance the huaynitos and the local music. That is why it is important to maintain these celebrations, so that we don’t lose these customs. This is important for our people.

And some customs, do you think that they have been lost?
Maybe… yes. Do you remember that I told you that La Oroya is an ancient town, very old, it is a place that has changed a lot.

What changes are you referring to, for example?
For example, I am referring to, for example, that La Oroya was a campesino community before, it was an area of campesino communities, but now this is no longer true. Now it is a mining town, it is a metallurgic town. And this changes things, a campesino community is not the same as a mining community. They are very different. The inhabitants themselves of La Oroya have changed, since the smelter brought people from many places – not only from Mantaro valley, but from other areas - from Arequipa, Lima, the south and other places. It has brought foreigners. In the past in La Oroya one could find North Americans, Germans, Japanese, people from everywhere and they bring their new customs, their way of life. That is a change. Certainly, the majority of people now are not originally from La Oroya. La Oroya is starting to be a city that attracted foreigners: Germans, scientists, and some who came from the whole area of Huancayo or Tarma.
All this changes the customs, certainly some customs have been lost. This is understandable since before there were campesino customs - there are also new ones, other celebrations. But nevertheless there are things that are kept, like the celebrations I mentioned… the typical food from the area, that hasn’t changed a lot.
Section 9
According to you there have been important changes in the communities which have changed from livestock and fowl production and many have [now] dedicated themselves to urban life, working for Centromin?
Precisely, this is what happens to many farmers, even oroyinos between Cari and La Oroya. Once their land was spoiled by the relaves they bought another plot of land further away from La Oroya, more than 70 km away. All of those who have settled in the Tarma region have workable plots of land, where people dedicate themselves to livestock and agriculture, and they contribute to the development of those regions. Others stay and try to work in the company, and live in La Oroya which is changing and becoming a mining city. That is what has happened. I think that is the main change that has happened here – is that this agricultural and livestock rearing [area] has become a mining region.

As a handicraftsman, why did you decide to stay in La Oroya?
I guess mainly out of habit and for the love I have for this land. Only with time, maybe, but not so soon, there is still too much to be done. We still have to work for the benefit of our people in order to be satisfied. I think we have to tackle the problem of the environment, the pollution. This is a priority in La Oroya. Here the climate might be cold, but it is healthy. Sometimes friends who have left La Oroya, or a friend from Lima, said to me, or still say, “Listen, Amador, what are you doing in this town, you should go to Tarma or to Lima as a handicraftsman, with your small business you have more opportunities.” But I am accustomed to loving this city, my birthplace, that is what allows me to withstand this environment, this smoke, so I have stayed.

But what happens if the younger generation of La Oroya decides to move to another area? What will happen?
That is a problem, the future of La Oroya is uncertain. You know that they are speaking of selling Centromin. They want to privatise it. The people are a bit afraid about the future. The city of La Oroya, as it is today, depends on Centromin and the day the smelter disappears, the city will disappear, that is the truth. Honestly, I don’t know what will happen. It is true that the smoke is affecting us, but it is also true that the company never tried to do anything to make it better. The solution at this late stage is not to close it down, but to renovate and modernise the smelter.
The young leave because there are no opportunities: that’s what happens. The future of La Oroya depends on the way the problems are resolved. It will depend on whether or not the smelter is closed down, and whether or not other economic activities that provide work are developed. One should fight for the socio-economic development of this locality and for everybody, that is what would be right. That is why we should be positive… and as a carpenter and a proprietor of a small business, I think that the future is also [in] small business. We must make more companies in La Oroya. These businesses can create work and transform or begin to transform our natural resources, without contaminating them, that is how it should be. In this way people will be busy and there will not be vagrants and drunkards, and the young won’t leave because they have to find work. That is what should be done.
Section 10
What small businesses are being built, that might help the future development of La Oroya?
Honestly, there are many here. Here we have the raw materials in the whole region. For example in other cities like Huancayo, they are producing food like pasta, and flour and other spices. The agricultural and livestock industry, metal works. Look around and you can see that we get everything from here, but we do not develop our industry. Over here in Chanchamayo is a good source of wood that should be exploited, not only for carpentry but also for the furniture industry. We are thinking of all of this. In any case there are small businesses that have much potential for growth, production for other localities, and there are good artisans in the area. We agree that some industry must be developed and we agree that mining should continue but without the polluting effects, that is how we can develop La Oroya.
A lot will depend on the environment, because we cannot think of development in such a contaminated region, where people are exposed to illnesses, where children can become sick from the dirty polluted river, and the fumes. But we are also looking for development of the environment, we will make things better, we will change and improve things. In this way, La Oroya will be a better place, it will recover some of the things it had, but it will also do many new things.

And what is your opinion of the smelter, how do you think that its transformation will bring changes to the environment.?
I think that the company Centromin must be part of the socio-economic development of the region. I believe that the workers should be conscious of this and look for a better type of development, offer better alternatives for a more harmonious relationship with the people of La Oroya... re-establish a company that does not produce these fumes.
I think that the company should be owned by people in the region, because in this way the people in the area will be concerned that the company should not contaminate. I think, you know, that the biggest problem in mining is that it has not been in the hands of the people of the region. It has either been in the hands of foreigners or in the hands of people in Lima, civil servants who would come to La Oroya and since they did not live here they did not care whether or not it polluted the environment. That has happened and that is why the company should never again be sold to foreigners, but it should be given to the people of La Oroya and to the other towns where Centromin has been mining. That would be the solution.

I think that your suggestion is interesting. Do you think that the people of La Oroya, the campesino communities, think in the same way as you?
Sure they do… the people are tired of hearing that they are a mining community and that they do not receive anything except fumes. That I can assure you, they are tired of being told that La Oroya is the metallurgical capital of Peru and nothing, no benefits reach them, it is not fair. The people want this to change, but not for the benefit of a few, but for the people. Obviously we are not businessmen, but there are young professionals of La Oroya who now live in Lima who would be able to make this company work. Why not? I think that it is possible and I think that most importantly it is a way of ending the problem of pollution and the careless management of the company, I am sure of that.
Section 11
Truly, don Amador, I thank you for having participated with your testimony which will be very useful. You told me you didn’t have much time, and I don’t want to take more than what you have already given me. I am sure that the day that your ideas will be implemented, the situation of La Oroya will improve. Thank you very much, don Amador.