Saturday, August 18, 2007

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released their 'Earthquake OCHA Situation Report No. 4' which reports that "The powerful earthquake that struck Peru has claimed the lives of 610 persons, wounding 1,042 and destroying 33,676 houses."

A Reuters video from Pisco with no commentary is featured in CNN.

News and blog accounts as well as You Tube and other videos on the earthquake in Pisco scatter the internet. The United States Geological Survey has some scientific details; and blogger Ralph Koster has a thorough run-down of places to make donations (though these have not been verified).

For a quick run down of general news updates, we recommend this Reuters page. To include other stories in the list below, contact Peruvia's editor.

Quake and the Economy:

Near-escape stories:
Condolences and Local Angles:



Friday, August 17, 2007

Further Updates:
(Editorial Note: Lucien Chauvin scores a journalistic two-fer publishing news articles in both the Christian Science Monitor and the Financial Times today.)

Earthquake Updates:

Mining: Strait Gold Corporation has started diamond drilling at its Culebrilla gold-silver project, according to a press release.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

There are several reports on the earthquake that rumbled through Peru last night. The epicenter was apparently around Pisco, Ica. Early indications are that it was around 8.0 on the Richter scale and that hundreds have died, thousands left homeless.

McClatchy reporter Tyler Bridges has several reports and seems to be among the first international journalists in Pisco. A version of his first story (they are chronologically ordered from earliest to latest below) was posted no later than 9:10pm EST. The reports include:



Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Race in Peru 

The Financial Times (Hal Weitzman) reports on race in Peru.

Peruvians fight patchwork prejudice

By Hal Weitzman in Lima

Published: August 13 2007 22:25

The advisory notices are like scars on the voguish dark wood-and-concrete exterior of the Café del Mar, a chic nightspot in the upmarket Miraflores neighbourhood of southern Lima. Plastered across the club’s door, they declare in large red letters: “CLOSED for breaking the law”. Last month, the Café del Mar became the first such establishment in Peru to be shut down by local authorities for racial discrimination. It was also fined 241,500 soles ($77,000, €56,000, £38,000).

The case has shed new light on a society whose various elites have long been dominated by lighter-skinned descendents of European immigrants. “This was an incredibly important step forward,” says Edwin Aldana, of the office of consumer protection at Indecopi, Peru’s competition authority. “It’s sent out a message that we have laws to protect all consumers – and we will enforce them.”

The action followed an undercover investigation by Indecopi in January 2006 in which a mestizo (mixed-race) couple were turned away from the club, while a whiter couple were allowed in. Café del Mar was fined, but a further investigation in October by a television news team found more of the same behaviour.

Indecopi then secured a judgment to force the club to close for 60 days and to impose the maximum fine. After generations of inter-marriage, most Peruvians do not fall easily into racial categories. The vast majority are mestizos and can trace their heritage back to combinations of indigenous, black, Chinese and white ancestors. There is also a large minority of purely indigenous Peruvians, particularly in the high Andes, and much smaller numbers of whites and blacks.

This patchwork masks a deeply entrenched system of prejudices. Peruvians are acutely aware of a plethora of subtle social and cultural distinctions that are almost imperceptible to outsiders. Prejudice is not a simple matter of skin colour, and this is one reason why the authorities find it hard to prove that the law has been broken.

“Peru is not a racist country, but that’s not to say there isn’t widespread discrimination by race and class,” says Julio Cotler, a political analyst in Lima.

Historically, those with darker skin and more indigenous characteristics have been marginalised from power and wealth. This has fuelled resentment against traditional elites.

Ollanta Humala, a radical nationalist who came close to winning last year’s presidential election, played on that anger during the campaign, casting himself as an “outsider” who would challenge Peru’s traditional decision-makers.

The flip side is what many see as a kind of self-loathing among some of the more indigenous Peruvians. “Discrimination is a cultural problem,” says Mr Humala. “Peru has a social pyramid based on skin colour – with white descendents of the Spanish at the top, mestizos further down and cholos [more indigenous people] at the bottom. The result is no one wants to be a cholo.”

Many Peruvians want to marry “whiter” than themselves – an impulse that can be traced back to the 19th-century idea of “improving the race”. “There is a widespread notion that if your children are whiter, they’ll have more opportunities,” says Wilfredo Ardito, a Lima anti-racism campaigner.

This attitude also fuels racial prejudice further down the social spectrum. “A cholo who becomes a bit whiter is often more racist than a white person,” says Mr Humala.

Some of the worst prejudice is suffered by Peru’s small black minority. “Black people are right at the bottom of the pile,” says Alfredo Perez Samame, of the Afro-Peruvian museum in Zaña, a northern coastal village. “Everyone feels they can discriminate against us.”

There are some signs of positive change. In 2001, Alejandro Toledo, an indigenous former shoeshine boy, won Peru’s presidential election and served until last year.

In recent decades, a growing number of darker-skinned Peruvians have become relatively well-off, and there is a developing and increasingly vocal anti-racism movement.

Six nightclubs have been fined in recent years. None has paid up, but the latest move to enforce anti-racism laws is a fresh sign that things may be improving.

“Since Café del Mar closed, a lot more people have come forward to report incidents. They now feel something will be done about it,” says Mr Aldana.


Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Observer (Hugh O'Shaughnessy, UK) reports from La Oroya.

Poisoned city fights to save its children

Families in a Peruvian valley choked by toxic gas from a smelter are taking on a US metals giant

Hugh O'Shaughnessy in La Oroya, Peru
Sunday August 12, 2007
The Observer

Children wearing masks play near the towering chimneys of Peru's La Oroya refinery and metals processing plant
Children wearing masks play near the towering chimneys of Peru's La Oroya refinery and metals processing plant. Photograph: Reuters

At an altitude of 13,000ft the Andean air is clear. A plume of white smoke rises from the chimney at the La Oroya smelter, hard at work refining arsenic and metals such as lead, cadmium and copper. But today the company is not discharging any gases over this city in central Peru. 'It's a nice day, so the company won't be letting off any gases,' says Hugo Villa, a neurologist at the local hospital. 'They keep the worst emissions do overcast days or after dark.'

When the gases are released, they make this one of the most polluted places on the planet, with La Oroya ranking alongside Chernobyl for environmental devastation, according to a US think-tank, the Blacksmith Institute.

The company is a US corporation, Renco Doe Run. The gases are the product from the main smelter a mile or two down the valley. The high mountains around keep out the cleansing winds, meaning that airborne metals are concentrated in the valley. Neither humans nor nature can escape the company's outpourings of poisons. And, despite evidence that gases have been behind the premature deaths of workers and residents young and old, the business-oriented, pro-US government of President Alan Garcia is too afraid of foreign investors to do anything about it.

Now, however, the townspeople, once muted by their worries about losing their jobs with the valley's biggest employer, are turning their attention towards Ira Rennert, Renco's proprietor.

The pollution from his plants appears both horrific and difficult to contest. A study of 93 newborn children in the first 12 hours of their life, conducted by Hugo Villa, showed they had highly dangerous levels of lead in their blood, inherited from their mothers while in the womb. The nearer the mothers lived to the main smelter, the higher was the babies' level of lead poisoning.

'The effects of the lead are often difficult to trace,' said Villa. 'But it lodges permanently in bones and affects the liver, kidneys and the brain. It affects the central nervous system. I've had child patients who have lost feeling in their limbs and can't control themselves.'

The quality of air sampled in the neighbourhood by three Peruvian voluntary agencies showed 85 times more arsenic, 41 times more cadmium and 13 times more lead than is safe. In parts of the town the water supply contains 50 per cent more lead than levels recommended by the World Health Organisation. The untreated waters of the Mantaro river are contaminated with copper, iron, manganese, lead and zinc and are not suitable for irrigation or consumption by animals, according to the standards supposed to be legally enforced in Peru. The water coming out of the nearby Huascacocha lake contains more than four times the legal limit of manganese.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the town has more than its fair share of youngsters with physical or mental disabilities. The company has a scheme under which a few hundred carefully selected children of Doe Run employees are taken for a few hours every day to a camp outside the town. With less money, the town council is trying to do something similar for children whose parents do not work for the company. None of this bears on the main problem - the pollution from the refineries. The problem here is such that adults chat about the lead levels in their blood.

'I'm 37,' said one. 'That's nothing,' said another, 'I'm 43.'

For years the Oroyinos, as the locals are called, appeared to put up with their lot. In the past, union leaders and the mayor were persuaded by Renco Doe Run to side with it to block, successfully, the government's feeble attempts to force it to reduce pollution. 'We may move out, and you'll all lose your jobs, was the message,' said Pedro, one former employee, now an invalid. 'It was a question of deciding whether to have enough food to eat or not.'

This year it is different. The town has elected a new mayor, Cesar Rodriguez, and the unions elected new leaders; and the effects of the pollution on children is finally getting through to parents.

Rennert's record as a polluter is not confined to Peru. For nearly 13 years, according to industry reports, the company topped the US Environmental Protection Authority's list as the worst air polluter in the country.

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