MAC: Mines and Communities

Metal Huasi: An Open Wound in Abra Pampa

Published by MAC on 2006-08-15

Metal Huasi: An Open Wound in Abra Pampa

Jujuy, Argentina

August 2006

Priest Jesús Olmedo Crucified Upon a Mountain of Toxic Lead Waste in Jujuy

8th April 2007

Indigenous communities participated in a protest during Easter processions in the northwest Argentina town of Abra Pampa, in the province of Jujuy, near the Bolivian border, where a mountain of mining waste has caused lead poisoning in at least 234 children. Some 1500 persons walked in a procession through the streets of Abra Pampa, walking the Easter ceremony of the "stages of the cross," organized by youth of the parish, led by Claretian priest Jesús Olmedo.

"We want a town without contamination, out With Metal Huasi!" shouted town residents, referring to the metal refinery abandoned some forty years ago. As the procession approached the mountain of lead, they found it guarded by provincial police officers, since a court order was in place prohibiting the demonstrators from entering the grounds of the former metallurgy complex.

Crucifixion Upon a Mountain of Lead

"We have entered onto these grounds to carry out a crucifixion on the shameful mountain of lead which is still poisoning the children and residents of Abra Pampa with lead in their blood," explained the priest Jesús Olmedo to the faithful who accompanied him. At the same moment, a large group of local residents carrying banners and signs against the pollution and against the installation of mining companies in the Puna, or high desert plains of Jujuy, began to climb the lead waste piles, while the police, overwhelmed by the numbers of people, could not block their entrance.

"Out with lead, we don't want contamination!" shouted a group of children who also participated in the protest as they climbed the contaminated piles with their parents.

The priest Olmedo was symbolically crucified at the end of the procession upon the mountain of lead waste. Accompanied by cheers and protest, he urged provincial and national authorities to remove the mountain and clean up the contamination suffered by Abra Pampa, especially among its children. Those present cried out for the eradication of the Metal Huasi complex.

"We will not accept that they just dump these toxic wastes in another indigenous community, which is what the government of Jujuy intends to do," said a resident to the news agency Noticias Copenoa. "They say that we from the north are cowards but when they harm us we show our powers!" sang the demonstrators to ancestral music, dressed in colorful traditional garb along with the ever-present Wip'ala, a flag of the communal society of the indigenous people of the region.

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