photo of person from Peru Cerro de Pasco
Peru glossary

Eliseo and Isabel

(PERU 21)






ex-union activists


La Oroya





We are in the city of La Oroya and we are going to take this opportunity to speak to a married couple, Eliseo Macha Bruno and Isabel Macha. Both have been living in this mining town for many years. Eliseo has been a Centromin employee for quite some time and Isabel, in addition to performing household responsibilities, is in charge of a small business. Both are present the moment and we are now going to speak to them.

Section 1
Eliseo, tell us about your childhood and your village. What do you remember from that time of your life?
E: Well... memories of my childhood, as you say, are many. I was born on June 14, 1953 in the village of San Roque which is part of the district of San Jose de Quiro in the province of Concepcion. At the time the annex was new and in fact there was a lot of room to live comfortably. However, during my initial years I saw that each resident would have many children and as time passed, it became small because everyone was involved in agriculture. Since I was very little I was very active and I liked business, I liked dealing, I liked being in contact with people; in my class I was one the most active ones and was among the top students during primary school. In this way, since I was very little, I thought about leaving my village to find a better life.

Did you study in your village, in your village school?
E: I completed primary school in 1965 in another district. It would take me an hour on foot to get there and another hour to get back so I had to take lunch to school. I remember we would take habas tostadas (toasted beans) and toasted maize with us. We would try to get back early because in those days we studied all day, morning and afternoon.

Tell me, have your parents been community members, have they been farmers...?
E: Yes, my parents were community members. My father's name was Aurelio Macha Huayas, he was always the community leader. He was a Municipal Agent, Governor and President of the Administrative Council. During his time in office he carried out many projects for the community. He founded cooperatives, which were very popular at the time. They included a cooperative of sheep herders and later a cooperative of consumption and one of transport. I think I learned many important things from him, especially his devotion to the community, the social work he did to find a better life for the village and those lessons were ample, they were very useful; and I know, since I was little, that he even left home in order to negotiate in the different ministries in Lima to push projects forward, or look for financing to advance the village's development. He did all that.
Section 2
Do you remember any of your village's customs, like anniversaries or religious festivals?
E: Yes, since I was little I saw that there in my village people excessively Catholic, too Catholic, every Christmas, for example, every quarter would present their dances. The first quarter presented the dance of ...

What was a quarter? A block?
E: A block consists of a group of villagers in a specific sector, that is called a quarter. The community had three quarters and each quarter had a traditional dance and that was mostly during Christmas to adore baby Jesus. Afterwards, for the New Year, it was the dance of Los Negritos and on January 6 the arrival of the Three Wise Men, the community's most widely attended celebration. I also remember participating in many of my community's celebration, also in community assemblies, in the community faenas (community, communal work) where I would follow my father to learn about work together in the community faena, in the harvest of potatoes, barley, which was done completely by the community. Everybody would take bring their donkeys or any beast of burden, like a llama, for example, to pick up their grains.

In what month does the harvest take place?
E: In June, July and August. Then once the barley is harvested, the next day is the threshing ("thresh the land") where each person would attend with their horses, 60 horses in total which had to thresh the tremendous heaps of barley for the community. Likewise, another thing that was very beautiful was the potato harvest because a group of women prepared boiled potatoes in the farm and would take chillies and cheese to share with everyone; that would be shared as a demonstration of the brotherhood that existed in our village. That is how community members are. There was a lot of unity and those who skipped the faenas or did not attend without justification were sanction and of that the Lieutenant Governor, the maximum authority, was in charge and he would have to detain the offender and put him in the prison cell.
Now that I bring back these memories, I see that it has been a beautiful life , I liked to work, participate in all the activities and since I was little I like to take up responsibilities. For example, at school I always took the initiative and that is why they would almost always select me as class president. I have been a leader since my childhood, and I say it with pride, because I have followed the example of my father, who worked a lot for the community.

Speaking a bit more about celebrations, it is well known that many villages of the Central Region have celebrations to commemorate passages of the war against Chile which evoke the struggle to resist the invading army. Is there some of this in the life of San Roque?
E: Look, not there. Mostly it was to adore los negritos, baby Jesus at Christmas. In San Roque the celebrations are eminently religious with bands and orchestras; and with lots of chicha (liquor usually made from maize but in this case made from peanuts) made from peanuts. The priest who presided over the celebrations and stayed over night would receive from each family an animal or food as a gift. And, since these were special occasions everyone would dress up with the best they had and would take the opportunity to sell their livestock and buy the most necessary things for the house.
Well, that's how it was, a lot of devotion; it is not like that any more, that has changed. That lifestyle, so traditional, so natural, we don't have it. Now the celebration are only dancing, drinks, but that is all... For example, I tell you that back then, after the mass for the dead, for someone in the family that had passed away, the priest and the sexton, who came from the villages of Mito or Orcotuno or from Concepcion, would return loaded with livestock. Since the belief that the soul of the dead would be saved if a mass were offered existed in the village, each father or each brother would a give a sheep cheese, mashua (?), olluco (?) as an offering which the priest would gladly receive. At the end he would return leading an admirable herd of sheep, loads of sheep, so many that not even the peasant himself could enjoy all that. Some times it was 20, 30 little sheep... Now it is not like that, there is no more devotion and in addition there is more of a crisis.
Section 3
Being in your town, as a youth, you surely must have heard some legends, stories referring to your community?
E: Yes, in San Roque there existed a hill called Monterrio, it is quite a high hill which has many caves are called Iglesia Machay, which means a Church cave.

Is it a sanctuary? ...
E: No it is not a sanctuary. In fact, they are caves inhabited by people many years ago. Human remains, like skeletons, are even buried there. Also in the Lomas de Huanin, etc. I think that those remains belong to inhabitants who lived like savages before the rise of the Pre-Inca cultures. They did not have any order and just buried their dead here and there. There rock pens on top of the hill and the rocks are completely blended by the sun, they are petrified constructions. This hill is also distinctive because water springs with a substantial quantity of water originate in each of them; possibly this is why the ancients chose this place, which we now call San Roque, to live it. Subsequently, it is known that the people that inhabited the area which is now the village of Mito, extended their dominion in this area constituting their cattle farms and, little by little, with time, it became part of our village, San Roque. It is also believed that the big hill covers a huge lake, that is why they call it Monterio (Mountain-river).

Do the celebrations for the irrigation water originate there?
E: Yes. Currently, the community drinks water from there and, in fact, they have made it potable. There are two rivers for irrigation. One of them is the Huarmita River and the other is the Quiro River; they bring a substantial amount of water all year and they flow into the Cunas River and later into the Mantaro.

Eliseo, where did you carry out your secondary education?
E: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I was always anxious to leave my village because, seeing that each neighbour had 8, 10 or 12 children, I calculated that when it would be time to divide the land, within 20 years there would not be enough of it for future community members.
Section 4
So, you were worried about the future of the community, as well as about your personal future?
E: Yes, of course I worried. Also, at the time my father told me "Now you are good [ready/old enough] to help on the farm..." I was anxious to dedicate myself to other things instead and I would say to myself, "No, I better leave..."; and the opportunity arose when my uncle arrived in San Roque from Chambara. At that time I told my father I wanted to leave with him to find my future because I also thought of escaping to Lima.

But a while ago you were telling me that you liked life in your community, that you liked what you did?
E: Yes of course, but I wanted to look into other opportunities as well, I was very anxious, that is how a young man is, and I wanted to see other things. That is how I left to Chambara.

Where is Chambara?
E: Chambara is a district that belongs to the province of Concepcion, near Chupaca. Then those... I left just on the year when a community school was beginning created and I told my uncle I would keep studying. I told my parents too and everyone approved. There were seven of us, my parents could not support me[economically], so I had to study and work. In any case in secondary school, I have to thank my uncle and aunty who gave me a lot of support. I reciprocated by helping them on the farm, with all the household chores when I was not at school.

Do you identify with the countryside, with the agricultural faenas, with peasant life...?
E: Yes, in fact what I liked was working as part of a community, seeing that everyone worked leaving even their personal duties behind for one day to dedicate themselves to the community, for the progress of the community. I loved that. Everything, all its faenas, its mingas, those ways of collectives work. And, in fact, nobody thought of taking personal advantage or of their individual prospects. Everyone thought about the community's progress, because it was progress for all. And, it is that lesson which I have always had in mind and, to date no... I always have wanted to work, go away and return with some capital so I can serve my community.

Tell us, how did you end up in La Oroya?
E: Well, I was in secondary school until 1968. My uncle and aunt, my grandparents and my parents supported me for the first, second, and third years, but I would tell myself I had to study and work. In this way in 1968 the possibilities of support were exhausted in '68, so I personally had to find work to continue studying. I was a young man and I found work in Chupaca in a grocery store belonging to Mr. Nicolas Sagama, who was so nice he gave me a lot of support and I could really work and study on that occasion. In 1971, I work widely in the business and they even made me responsible for sales in other districts like Auqui, Quiscos, Changos Bajo, Champara, Huachua, etc; I would deliver with a truck. Aside from that, I remember I didn’t have the money to rent a good room. I would cook my own food, I would prepare my food with whatever I could. However, at least they gave me a room. Since, there was no electricity, we would light a candle in order to be able to study when the time was available and take as much advantage of it as possible. I consider all this has been very beneficial for me because I have not had distractions like the radio, a record player or a television. In fact, at that time, I was concerned about not wasting the time that was left after work. Now I thank myself for learning how to live in the midst of difficulties and deprivation. Instead I entertained myself with my books and notebooks I had to work for and I valued a lot. In this way in the third and fourth years of secondary school I was an outstanding student and I even represented my school in many maths contests in the city of Huancayo. Problems arose to continue working so I had to go to Huancayo to conclude my fifth year of secondary school.
There, in Huancayo, I studied at the "Tupac Amaru" school. I also studied and worked, on this occasion at "El Tumi" magazine stand on the same corner as the Hotel de Turistas (Tourist Hotel). In this way I was able to finish secondary school..., but always with the desire to excel....... I remember the first year of secondary school, the school was for boys and girls, where the majority were young but I was the smallest and they would call me muñeco (masculine doll) And when they elected members of the of the section's committee they made me their representative, I made friends quickly. I don't know... but since I was little at every school I attended I have been a leader even the fifth year, I was also a member of the classroom committee.
Upon completing secondary school I thought about studying at university, but I did not have the means so I decided to follow a technical career and chose to enrol at the training centre. There I got a scholarship in a boarding school where they facilitated the professional development in carpentry. Well, in those moments I ended up getting married to Isabel, my compañera (companion/comrade). Also, with my classmates at the training centre, we set up a cooperative workshop in the form of a propiedad social (social property business). It was called the Jose Carlos Mariategui Production Workshop, TAPROCAM, I held the position of Secretary of the Administrative council. I participated in the construction and management of the workshop until 1976. However, the salary at the time was not convenient for me as I had a family and a greater responsibility. In addition, my son Wilmer had already been born. Due to that situation I began to look for work elsewhere in order to survive. In this way I found out about a vacancy in Centromin Peru and, in 1976, I came to take the exam and I won the contest by holding second place. In this way, I stayed working in La Oroya. Although, due to things about the environment, I did not want to stay in La Oroya because when I arrived I said, "... I'll stay here, one or two years at most..." However, I've already been here 19 years and I haven't left yet.
Section 5
Do you think that happens frequently with majority of workers who believe they are there for a short time but end up staying?
E: Yes, of course, I think that happens to many and I think it is because for many it is a big change. Whether you come from the countryside or the city, to begin working as labourer in a mining company is a great change and some times one cannot get accustomed or it takes long to become accustomed.

And for you Isabel, was it a big change coming to La Oroya?
Is: Yes, it was a great change which affected me.

Basically, you had been living in your village for many years?
Is: Well, mostly I had spent it with my grandmother and I went to primary school in my community. My dad worked at Centromin Peru. In general my life has been like a gypsy’s, from one place to another. I went to study in Huancayo, I met my husband, we got married and, because he began to work here at the company, I also had to come.
Section 6
And your dad, how long did he work for Centromin?
Is: My dad retired from the company after 35 years of service, but for the most part we did not live with my dad because the camps did not have the facilities they have today and my mother was the one who decided to send us over there.

What did your dad tell you about the smelting plant, how was it built, how were the chimneys installed?
Is: Well, my grandpa was the first to begin working for the old "Cerro de Pasco Corporation" and he would tell us that in those days there were no camps like the ones you see today, only buildings in the form of shacks where workers who lived far away stayed existed. That was the case for my uncle, who returned to the village because there was no accommodation. And in the case of the people that came from Ayacucho and Huancavelica [might it be Huancavilca] and were not very educated and, for the most part, did not know how to read or write, they were sent to do chimney construction, and a great number of them have died. They would fall and disappear and, since they had no family here, they did not have anyone to claim them [their bodies].

And your dad, did he begin working at the smelting plant since he was very young?
Is: Yes, my father worked since he was very young. He used to comment that it was easy to begin work in those times. It was easy to enter and to leave; especially if it was inconvenient for you to work in certain areas of the plant designated by the gringos you withdrew. Later they would come back, like that every three or five months. This method was also used by peasants who came to the plant only in times of standstill. They would save some money and return for sowing time or for the harvest. That's how things worked in those days. When my father married my mother he then looked to settle down in a determined section. Like this he ended up in the metallurgical research laboratory. He was a mechanic and, like that, he retired after 35 years of service.

And what can you tell me about Mito's customs?
Is: Ah, of the Huanconada of Mito.

What was the Huanconada?
Is: The Huanconada, according to the elders, was like a council of illustrious village neighbours who held the responsibilities of village authorities, and watched the behaviour in our community, and had the opportunity to apply sanctions during the Huancanada festival from January the 1st to the 3rd, every year. They would make each one see if they had misbehaved, and they would apply sanctions, if not, solutions. For example, if there was a couple that lived together informally, they would make them get married , that is what they would do.

Would they replace public authorities?
Is: No, no, none of that. The custom is that they, those from the Huaconada, intervene only once a year and the public authorities make sure there decisions are carried out.
Section 7
Is Huaconada a Quechua term?
Is: Possibly, but I would not know how to translate it into Spanish.

Quechua has been getting lost in this part of the central highlands, hasn’t it?
Is: Yes, it is spoken very little, only the adults speak, some...

And what celebrations do they have in Mito?
Is: Well, in the past Mito was the first city of the entire [Mantaro] valley and it extended up to Huarochiri, Yaravirique, which is located near the Yauyos zone. My grandparents would tell us this; even that we had land there that we had inherited from our ancestors, but which were impossible to attend to or rescue because so much time had gone by and, also, because they probably now had new owners. Additionally, we have the house of Major-General Andres Avelino Caceres here in Mito. Likewise the first convent built by the first religious order to arrive in this area is also in this area. This nun convent was then transferred to Santa Rosa de Ocopa. Major-General Andres Avelino Caceras was in this house during the war against Chile, of that I have heard.

Where did you carry out your studies?
Is: Here in Mito, but I went to secondary school in Huancayo at the industrial school. However, I had to leave due to my marriage.

How old were you when you were married? You were very young, I imagine.
Is: I was 16 when I got married. And then I came here to La Oroya with my husband, and sometimes we did not understand each other because he takes the initiative to [make me] study textiles and dress making and that was not enough. So he registered me in the industrial school of La Oroya. After that I registered myself in a higher education centre, "Teodoro Peñaloza", but the truth is I did not want to keep studying because I had a house and family and I could not leave it, as well as a small business I had to attend to. In secondary school I was one of the best students, I even won a scholarship based on merit. Now I only have memories. Eliseo's friends would joke with him and say, "Why do make her study, your wife is going to leave..." and he would answer, "... it doesn't matter, she can leave if at the end that is worth it for her children."

In the end your husband wasn't as macho as the rest or was he?
Is: No, he is a very understanding person. He isn't like others who want their wife to stay at home and be at their service...

Does that happen frequently here in La Oroya?
Is: Yes, of course, very frequently.
Isabel has to leave because she is requested at her business, she returned later.

So, Eliseo, what did you do to incorporate yourself into La Oroya, to its life, its customs?
E: Well, when I arrive in La begin with I was used to working and I had no problem mixing with the mass of workers who would move in thousands in the smelter. When I began working in 1976, the smelter had already been passed onto Peruvian hands. The company was no longer called the "Cerro de Pasco Corporation". Instead it was Centromin Peru. In those years the company had built camps for those workers who would come to the company on a seasonal basis, as peons, for a few months or years. Those camps had rooms of 4x4 for one person or as a bachelors’ accommodation. However, because many decided to stay, they made it their home and those rooms became family houses and lived in that reduced space. It became even worse when the children grew. Now you in the old Oroya you can see the overcrowding withstood by the population because the company never bothered to build houses. The workers have constantly complained...
When I started working for the company, I was assigned to clean and maintain the Analysis Laboratory. I started there and from the first moment I was concerned about respecting others and about equality. I did not like the injustices I saw, I didn't like the indifference of the bosses towards the workers. I was also shocked by the abnormal environment and atmosphere coming from the smelter's smoke and gasses. From then on I learned of the great value a pure, uncontaminated air like the one in my village, San Roque, in the countryside. In the laboratory itself we had problems with toxins. To all that add that slowly I was taken to the authorities due to the constant complaints I made. And I would tell my colleagues that it was not right for us to work in contaminated areas in inhuman conditions, with noise that exceeded the permissible limits, toxic gases which would remain in the room in the lab because of the lacking of a ventilation system. As a result of my work, I was elected Sectional Delegate by my colleagues within a year of starting my work. First we negotiated to improve environmental conditions at work and in the city of La Oroya. We always demanded for an end to the contamination of the Mantaro River, an end to pouring acids into it. We suggested that these be placed in special reservoirs where they could be treated and the acids neutralised and to stop ruining the water of the Mantaro River, which must serve the entire valley's agriculture.
Section 8
When you arrived in La Oroya you found that its environment was contaminated and its flora and fauna was affected. In terms of time you have spent in the company, could we say that the contamination has remained the same or has changed?
E: Well, first of all we demanded that there be no toxins or, at least, that it be reduced considerably to improve working conditions. Likewise we have complained so that the company reduce the volume of smoke and toxic gas that is spilled over the population daily. However, the company, as well as the government, turned a deaf ear to these complaints. But, over the last couple of years, more specifically, one year ago, several corrective measures have been made. For example, the acid, I mean those from the laboratory, are no longer poured into the Mantaro River. Now they are being neutralised with lime and deposited in barrels and, once they are neutralised, they are dropped into the Mantaro River anyway. It is a way of reducing contamination. According to what they tell me, you could once fish trout in the Mantaro... you cannot now.
Section 9
Did you find the water of the Mantaro that dark colour already [when you arrived]?
E: Since I arrived the water's colour is the same and little has been done to protect those waters.

When you arrived, what was the social life like in La Oroya?
E: Back in those days when I became a worker in the company, I found that Centromin's workers paid regularly and relatively better than nowadays. There were many parties here. During the months of carnival, each barrio would have a party with the best bands, as far as I can remember... "ah that was the life..." Bands, if I am not mistaken, would come from Sunicancha, from Lima, all the way from Trujillo, from Jauja. The best carnivals were celebrated here, in La Oroya. It is because at that time Centromin was booming and we workers could get enjoyment from that. What happened was that we had no idea or awareness of the grave mistakes the company was making and that, with time, the workers ended up paying for.

Back in those days then, did the workers have greater capacity to spend?
E: Yes, we had greater spending power. But also the company provided us with great benefits we did not take advantage of. For example, a worker could request the payment for his time of service in advance in order to celebrate a wedding or a cortamonte (festival) and they did not know how to take advantage of that. But, anyway there were some who knew how to take advantage of this and now they live peacefully from their own businesses.

It seems that there was a good relationship with the company. Were there also conflicts?
E: Yes, of course. For example during the first “march of sacrifice” I was in charge of it in 1978. I was the delegate of my section and that strike was held to demand the hiring again of those compañeros (companions/comrades) who had been fired unjustly by the company and who were holding a hunger strike. We marched through the streets of Lima and we went to the Military Hospital to rescue our compañeros doing the hunger strike and transfer them to another hospital where they could receive better care until they recovered. By then the Military Government of that time offered to negotiate our request with the company.

And you Isabel, what can you tell us? Did women also participate in those struggles, or was it just the men?
Is: Well, the truth is that at first I did not like to participate and I will tell you why. I begin by seeing that Eliseo works, seeing him confront and that, in part, it was affecting all the household. That is why at first I saw that his participation affected the house, we neglected our family, but later I joined. Since the Committee of Housewives of the Metallurgical Trade Union was already created, I joined in 1984 as a supporter of the union where Eliseo was a leader. There we worked, as equals, in mutual agreement.

Was the participation of the Committee of Housewives crucial?
Is: Yes, since the time dad worked there, mum also participated in the Committee of struggle with the Committee of Housewives; it is because, us women, we have always been very courageous, strong. There are women who have stood out in the struggle. Compañera Gregoria, for example, who always supported the worker's cause. She was one the best I knew; also Mrs Mejia. Later I participated at the Federation level when my husband got the position of Secretary General. Always supporting him. I greatly remember those years that were so difficult for the miners. On one occasion we had to go to the Marcavalle barracks when we learned that one of the National Federation leaders was detained, that they had made him disappear overnight and with him other leaders from Morococha, San Cristobal. We supported all of them with food, but mainly with our encouraging voices so that they would not feel alone.
Section 10
And you, Eliseo, how have you evaluated your participation in labour union activities?
E: As I told you, the year after I started working for the company, I was elected Sectional Delegate and, from that date until today, I still have that position. If I resign, they ignore me. We argue for a while, but we continue. I would like to highlight that we gained compensation for the toxic waste affecting us. The majority got it but at that time we were 650 workers who were not receiving it. This compensation consisted of a can of milk which the company gave us every day. However, we complained, that was not our objective. Our correspondence to the authorities of Labour were made so they could order the company to improve the ventilation systems. In the end, this authority chose the easiest route: they ordered that we receive a can of milk, plus payment for the toxins and considered that our demands were satisfied. However, it was not easy to receive this benefit seeing we had to take over the company's facilities. We slept there and we even prepared our food there. After that I was the Minutes and Archive Secretary of the Metallurgical Union. Subsequently, because they noticed my consistency, my interest to work in their benefit, they then chose me, in 1988, to attend the XIII Ordinary Congress of the Federation of Workers of Centromin held in Cerro de Pasco where I was elected Secretary General just when the National Miner's Strike was beginning. It was during that Congress that I met the one who at the time was the Secretary General of National Federation, I am referring to compañero Saul Cantoral, who I have great memories of because we shared arduous hours of struggle, detentions, work, etc. With him I shared a cell in State Security. I remember they caught us, we were just about to reach the Chamber of Deputies (National Parliament) to meet with the President of the Republic. We were locked up there for three days.

In what way did your union activities affect your family life?
E: Well yes, it was a great experience. Look, before we had business all formed. But, I want to go to this next thing to answer you. Both my wife [and I] contest any expression of all inequality. We knew many workers who suffered of saturnismo, I am referring to the disease caused by lead in the blood, when all of a sudden a person loses the ability to move. We have also seen a great number of accidents due the company's negligence. To see that a compañero is suddenly an invalid or mutilated shocked me a lot. I understood this when better I became a union leader; but especially to be able to help them, there was a lot of injustice in everything... in all areas, in health, in any sickness they would talk to you about everything in the company hospital, except of the contamination which was affecting us. Due to deal of occupational sicknesses, product of contamination, for example, each us, on our own account, have to go to Institute of Occupational Health so that they can diagnose us and, when they gives us the medical certificate, indicating the degree of intoxication in our organism, we have to put up another fight to be transferred to another section.
It's the same for the distribution of housing... there is a lot of marginalisation. If you aren't in with the boss, then they did not qualify you and you were left behind. I didn't like those kind of things and for that reason I made it a point to work for the union in order to reach equality, also among all the workers. Because the union demanded, let's say housing, then the company would say that they had already made housing available, then another problem would arise because the company did not let the union participate in the selection. Do you know why? Because the company later would use that as a favour and manipulate the workers against there own compañero.
Many workers even became secret informers for the company, and the mission of others was to alter the order of the Assembly and so on...because there has been cases where workers had five to seven children, it was not feasible that they live in rooms of 4x4 and we complained to the company so that they would be given family housing that had several rooms and basic services. I would never finish if I told case by case, all that is part of the injustice we live in and that I have seen as a leader of my union...problems and I also knew the company. At that time, it was not only La Oroya. I had to also take care of 18 camps and a total of 18,000 workers in all of Centromin.
In general, the company was used trampling the workers, without respecting their rights or even their dignity, so, we have decided to work jointly to organise complaints to the company and, likewise, to the government so they can take the reigns of a state company that was constantly spilling losses and found itself really backwards in relation to the technological advances in mining and metallurgy experienced in the world. We were conscious that it was necessary to improve technology to improve the quality of our production, that all of that would improve the productivity of each worker. We even consulted with mining and industry technicians and specialists to understand integrally the problems of our company and to elaborate our own suggestions.
At Centromin the majority of engineers themselves, would approve our diagnostics and suggestions. In contrast, the directorate of the company, didn't even take the time to listen to us and all this because all their projects, especially the last ones, had all failed. Because they only served to enrich a few...and who would have to pay the debts incurred by the company? Us, the workers in the first seems like the government at the time did not care because they didn't do anything either. There was too much corruption here in Centromin. That is what in reality has provoked the company's crisis and the discouragement of the workers. Later, the current government came with its privatisation policy and, although they still have not sold the company, they have already fired 8000 workers and have still not finished... But, another thing I would like to tell you is that there has been a lot of reprisals against union leaders.…You know, some leaders appeared dead, others have been imprisoned, others were followed, others, we suffered slander, defamation. Oh…I was forgetting, the police alone did not intervene; the government used soldiers to intervene and control our union premises, we were stopped from engaging in union activities... then,... that cannot be forgotten.
Section 11
Were you a leader at that time?
E: Yes,...I was already a leader.
Section 12
And did that situation affect you and your family?
E: Well, I already knew that the company was going to look for something to put me in jeopardy or make me lose face before my compañeros and the police itself would harass me. For that matter everything was our fault...even when the chief of the police sneezed..., yes, that was how the fault of the union and its leaders was. On that occasion, they took advantage of a general complaint by the workers for a pay rise to create chaos, lack of trust, they used doubt to use some workers who were unconditional to them, they were amarillos (literally yellows, meaning those workers who betray the unions) they were informers to make up slanders and they diffused the news that I had negotiated the settlement of the general complaint made by the workers without consulting anyone. That news was diffused one night and, the next day, if I had not taken precautions, my own compañeros would have attacked me, without accounting for the consequences, even...because they though I had betrayed them. The company's campaign got to such an extreme that they did not even let me speak at the Assembly, they insulted me, they called everything...and they ended up expelling me from the union as the most vile of the union leaders. And... although on the third day the real agreement was signed and there was proof that I had been slandered, nothing could really be done. There was distrust among the workers, it was a tremendous chaos. Well, to be honest, I had great trust in the workers, but there, at that moment, they completely disappointed me.

They turned their back on you, did you feel they turned their back on you?
E: Yes, they turned their back on me...and that created a big disappointment...I did not know what to do because, likewise, they expelled the other leaders who were with me. Afterwards some workers came to apologise, others would say to me, "why didn't you clarify it well...". In reality I felt that an atmosphere of enmity, of bitterness against the working masses, had been created. But my feelings were bitter, I wouldn't know how to you well how I felt; in fact, I was a victim of the company's power, of the government.

Isabel, as a wife, as a mother, how did you share those moments that Eliseo has told us was the family's situation confronted?
Is: At that time, we had not lived in peace. Threats would arrive every moment, either from the company, or from the Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path movement). We had even become used to get anonymous threats that would tell us that "at any moment we would disappear..." Look, with so much room available in the camps; but no, they would come precisely to my door and sit and drink alcohol, people that were sent by the company with the purpose of boring us, to look for problems, sometimes to be disrespectful to our children, not to mention that they would leave the front door filthy. And the neighbours, they would not interfere or say anything, they all would just lock themselves up in their homes. Like that we had to put up with it. But instead of being cowardly or running away we worked even harder with the Support Committee to the Federation, with the Metallurgical Union. Instead we organised work at the level of all of Centromin’s bases. Then we made mining schools for the miner's wives in all the camps... despite all the difficulties, we confronted the company behind, behind all of those who were leaders. We were a very united group of wives that worked at the level of the Support Committee. I became every involved in the work and we put ourselves forward. In this manner, I tried to help my husband and the workers.
Section 13
Did the company experience economic reprisals?
Is: In 1984 Eliseo was a union leader and, from July to February, almost a year, we lived without having the company pay my husbands wages. However, we were able to live solely from the business we had. I would work and he would fulfil his duty as union leader... there was a certain support. But, when we left the business? When Eliseo is already a Secretary of the Federation, the reason for which threats against his life begin to arrive, then I had to follow, follow them and support them in everything that was necessary. Look, the company, just to bother us, would sometimes not pay the salaries. Other times they would deduct [money from the wages] without a just cause and the worse thing that happened was that they would steal from our business. There our business fell, and financially we had a bad time. Yes, but none of that stopped us from going forward with the union's cause, more on the contrary, it made us be stronger, looking ahead and supporting our union leaders. Even though my kids were small, I knew how to sort myself out.
Despite everything, the workers would always come to seek support. They would come with their complaints to request help and they would come from such far away camps. Maybe they needed more than we did so we had to offer them a hand, be close to them at least to comfort them morally. Yes, it is like this that we have given our support, carrying my Carlitos, my youngest son who at the time was just three years old.
So on, until that fatal moment when Eliseo was censored. It was practically a great disappointment, trusting them so that later they could turn their back on us when you had given everything for them so that later they will be rude to you. No...that is not just. But...I think that all that, when all the bad moments of that time passed, we have felt stronger to look ahead with all that experience we have with everything that has happened to us; not only for us, but also for them. It's not like we are leaving anything. No, none of that because we want to carry on, may be in a different way because we have this business again but, this time, working with our children who are now grown ups. So now our participation is not like it was before, but the struggle continues and, in that, nobody is going to change our minds. First we are humans and we feel. If we feel our own pain then we will know how to feel other people's pain too. As a mother and a woman that is how I feel. That is how people from around here, from our communities are. I think that influences solidarity among us, despite coming from different areas, or to different work like the work of Centromin. We continue thinking the same and we help each other out. That's what the company and the people from Lima and others do not understand. That’s why slander takes place and people, sooner or later, notice who honest and who is not. Who lies and who doesn't.

Have things changed in the last couple of years?
E: Well, currently I see that things are more peaceful for union work. It isn't like the period of 1988, 89, 90, where things were burning; there were constant threats, union leaders would be killed. For example, during my term, they killed the secretary general of Morococha, compañero Antonio Cajachagua, in the month of May; also the secretary general of Cerro de Pasco, Ceferino Requis. In fact, just at that time, I travelled to Cerro de Pasco to participate in an meeting. I went with other leaders, but look at what life is like, unfortunately we were late... we could say fortunately, because on the way we were insulting the driver. We would say to him, "go faster carajo... you run like a pig," and as we approached Cerro we went towards the union quarters where the meeting was to take place. As we are about to enter, we are told that "they have just killed the secretary general" and, in fact, we found compañero Requis laying on the ground, still bleeding, before a crowd of people. He had already dies, and at that moment about 600 workers were there lamenting the murder. At that moment just about all of them had left the union premises.
They were difficult times. On the one hand, when they already were declaring paros armados (armed strikes), just to use the threats of the Shining Path as an example, "...if you don't support the paro armado you are a traitor and you will die,"... To that you can add the threats of the paramilitary group "Rodrigo Franco" saying "...why are you taking the poor on strike when they don't even have anything to eat, if you persist, justice will be done..." Oh, it was difficult to be a union leader at that moment and, well, we accepted what the majority of workers had to say. If they said yes to the strike, we would go on strike. If they said no, it was no, then. That's how it was. We had to obey the working class. But the truth is we, the workers, were between two fires, between the paramilitary and the Shining Path.
Section 14
Currently, do you no longer play a role in the labour union?
E: At this moment I am completely involved in the business because, in terms of the family, we experienced a desperate time in which we didn't even have anything to make the pots stand. We had spent everything we had and we had no income. The company did not pay my wages and the business we had went bust. The little capital we had, when we realised it, we had already spent it. In addition, we got this very grave problem. As saying goes, "more rain falls over those who are wet." At that moment when we couldn't even afford something to eat, Isabel falls sick on me and that is the most powerful reason to reactivate this business you see now and so leave the union matters. In addition we were already dealing with selfishness of the masses who turned their backs on us. So, why insist, then. You know that, even if we do not say it, it affected the entire family morally. Something is very clear though,... if the masses decided to expel me from the organisation,... because that is what they did with me, I have no problem agreeing with that decision. Finally... I have always agreed to the masses' democratic decisions. Oh, but they did come to ask me to come back. I would have to think it over well. No, ... the truth is I have to firmly set up this business first. Afterwards we shall see what we will do; for now those are my plans.

Eliseo, you have 4 children, 3 boys and a girl. How to evaluate their future? Will they also live in La Oroya, how have you analysed their future, what would you like for them?
E: Look, I already have a medium and long term plan, but firstly my children need to get a higher education with the purpose of getting them prepared and trained to reach their own subsistence, so that they do not necessarily expect to get a good job. These days that is no longer possible, there's no stability, at any moment they get rid of you and it's over. So many mining compañeros who have worked in the company for so long have been fired by the company and they do not know what to do. I don't want that for my children...
Section 15
You don't want them to follow their father's mining tradition?
E: No way. There is no future in this company now. It isn't like it was before. There is insecurity now and that jeopardises things. If I were young I would not come to work in La Oroya. That's why all the young people leave. I want my kids to be prepared. That is my worry. I want them to know everything so they can excel, with their own effort. With my own wife we encourage them to read and study texts that help manage our business better. For example, I have already planned what I will do in the case that I am fired and I have more alternatives than to resign. I have already calculated how much merchandise I could buy in detail. I try also to do everything with a lot of discipline. Oh yes, and in the business, I now have everything written down... when I started, how much I have left, who I owe, who owes me. Nothing escapes me. In reality I like it, I love it and with Isabel we share everything we have accomplished. She is a good companion and my children are the happiness of my life and, for them, I will continue to work as long as god gives me the strength. Go forward. My ambition is to have a big business and I think I have all the qualities and the possibilities to accomplish this with the same effort as us they will appreciate it... give time, time.

I imagine that you acquired a great part of your way of thinking from countryside, following your father's experience, linked to the raising of animals, planting. What have you thought in this respect? Perhaps return to your village of origin or go onto a city like Huancayo or Lima; do you think of returning to your community?
E: The truth is that since I was young I have been very ambitious about business. I'll tell you an anecdote. There, in my village, bread arrived weekly and it was brought from the city of Chupaca at a distance of one day on a donkey that, in addition, included other merchandise. Or cars would arrive, so my mum would send me to sell bread and, singing, she would give me a sack. The funny thing is that half way there I was already counting the bread I had distributed and the profit I had made. I think that since then I got the flavour for business, and I am even just as curious because every day I check the balance to see how much I am selling or how much I make or lose. That is how it is now, that is how I spend these times, my work, the house, the business. Yes, ... I am happy like this.

But, would you return to your village, San Roque?
E: No, no anymore... Now life has put forth other demands. I have the aspiration of having my kids by my side to set up a great business where they will be the managers, for them to manage well this business we are starting, for them to be very efficient working, providing the community with good service. This business has given me the opportunity to meet again with my old friends, but, at the same time, to make new friends. That's life. I do not think I could have this business in my community and in the countryside my children would not be able to study what they want to study. Therefore, it is difficult for me to return and settle in the community. You know that in the Mantaro Valley, the peasants and their children, like me and my wife, are very business minded. That's the way we are; it is a very old custom which we have not lost. We are from a rich valley with a lot of commerce. That production is traded a lot everywhere, to Lima or to the jungle.
Section 16
That custom has not been lost by working for a mining company like Centromin?
E: Of course not. In fact, I think that is difference between the communities of the area and others that come from further away. It often happens that the company fires a worker and "the world falls apart" for the miner. I Tell you, although it is an injustice to fire one from his work, the miner should be ready to do other things. I feel prepared to confront being taken off my job. Me and my family have been working out an alternative that will allow us to help ourselves financially, but that if we dedicate more time to it, we can make it grow.

And what do you think Isabel?
Is: What I want is the best for my children. We have spent so many years working hard in La Oroya and exposed to so many things, as we have told you. We have put up with a lot. You know how the mining families in the camps live, in small rooms. My children have grown up there, with the smoke from the smelter and contamination less than 500 metres away, and that has been our life. Now, perhaps, we would like o change life a bit and try to improve and help ourselves from our experiences and, above all, from what our parents taught us to carve out a better future, especially for our children.

Well, I would like to thank both of you for the time you have given us and for the interview. Any final words or anything you would like to add?
E: To thank you for the opportunity to have this interview, thanks from my wife, Isabel.

On the contrary, I appreciate your gesture of letting me come close to your experiences, experiences that you have lived over these years. Thank you, Eliseo. Thank you, Isabel.