The director of Red Uniendos Manos Peru (Joining Hands Peru) will be among the guests speaking at Compassion, Peace and Justice Training Day in April. Conrado Olivera has had a front row seat on how mining and free trade agreements can adversely impact the health and safety of the public, especially when environmental regulations are not in place or properly followed.

Joining Hands Peru (JH Peru) works to identify the root causes of hunger, poverty and injustice through advocacy and the promotion of human and environmental rights. It was formed 15 years ago by the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Joining Hands initiative. The network has 12 member organizations and churches working with women, indigenous populations, rural farmers and herders, as well as urban youth.

Olivera says Peru’s geographic and cultural diversity as well as its natural resources and the rights of its citizens are in danger from industrial pollution.

“Increasingly, mining, oil and industrial agricultural companies are looking for markets and spaces to exploit, leaving behind environmental damage that affects the health of people and ecosystems,” said Olivera. “In the meantime, our governments are increasingly pressured to attract more foreign investment and do this by reducing environmental controls and affecting our rights to live in lands free of contamination.”

The JH Network in Peru works to protect such rights and generates alternative proposals to overcome the impacts of this behavior.

“We are vigilant in monitoring the weakening of environmental standards, educating populations on their rights and the actions of the state and companies, proposing alternative laws and advocating for political and public change,” he said. “Much of our work has evolved out of our long-term and intimate relation with the population of La Oroya which is one of the most contaminated cities in the world due primarily to the activity of a U.S. smelting company.”

This now-closed smelter in La Oroya has caused significant health and environmental problems for the people of Peru.

This now-closed smelter in La Oroya has caused significant health and environmental problems for the people of Peru. —Jennifer Evans

Olivera says tens of thousands of people, including women and children, have been severely impacted by the environmental damage to the land.  The metallurgical smelter in La Oroya, which has been the cause of the contamination, is currently inoperable and the levels of contamination are significantly reduced.

Olivera says they are still monitoring for any intervention by the company or the state that could increase contamination in the soil, water and air in the region.

“We worry about the increased flexibilities in environmental laws due to the intervention of economic pressure that are always looking for increased advantages,” he said. “We also worry about the grave impacts that could be generated by the ‘pro-investment’ agenda of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement that is pending ratification.”

While some countries are improving their environmental regulations, Olivera believes Peru is going backwards. He says the increased impact on local communities has also increased social conflicts in the country. He’s hoping prayer, reflection and meaningful action will make a difference.

“The issues of environmental care, health and development that we have been addressing are interconnected in a global way, therefore we hope for the continued commitment of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to continue studying, learning and advocating in the appropriate spaces with us.”

During his presentation in April, Olivera will focus on the impacts of trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership on communities and how environmental and human rights are undermined by advantages given to foreign investors.


CPJ Day is part of the Ecumenical Advocacy weekend in Washington, D.C., April 15-18. To register to attend, click here.

Those interesting in learning more about this work and how to get involved can join one of three JH Network tables