Film triggers discussion over Choropampa case

More than 1,000 affected residents are suing the U.S.-based mining corporation.

Emma Carew

Jorge Caceres has been married for two weeks. He held up his hand displaying a new gold ring and asked the audience if they knew how much it cost to produce such a thing.

The Human Rights Center hosted a screening of “Choropampa: The Price of Gold” on Tuesday night as part of its 2005-2006 film series.

After the film, three panelists ” community and University experts in the fields of law and public health ” were available for a community discussion on the topic.

Caceres, a 2005-2006 Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs fellow and a professor of law from Peru, gave a brief introduction to the Choropampa case prior to the film.

Peru is the largest producer of gold in South America and the sixth-largest in the world, he said, and with the gold mining business comes the issue of mercury byproduct.

In June 2000, a truck from the Yanacocha mine en route to Lima, Peru, spilled more than 150 kilograms of elemental mercury along a 40-mile stretch of highway near the village of Choropampa.

More than 1,000 inhabitants of the community have filed a lawsuit in the United States, seeking punitive damages from Newmont Mining, the Denver-based corporation that owns 51 percent of the Yanacocha mine, Caceres said.

If the plaintiffs prove successful, this case will be the “first time foreign plaintiffs have been able to hold a U.S.-based corporation responsible in U.S. courts for environmental harm,” said Brad Karkkainen, a panelist and professor of environmental law.

Similar cases in the past have been brought to the U.S. court system, but many have been sent back to their country of origin, he said.

In the Choropampa case, the lawyers, who were also involved in the high-profile Erin Brockovich case, convinced the Colorado court that the Choropampa plaintiffs would not get a fair trial in Peru because of corruption and politics, Karkkainen said.

The Spanish and Portuguese studies program sponsored the event and the chairwoman of the program, Ana Ferreira, attended the event.

She said she hoped other members of her department would come or that they had encouraged their students to attend the screening.

Ferriera said she wanted her students to learn about issues not often addressed by literature.

“I believe in, at the minimum, awareness of human rights problems,” she said, “and possibly the contribution to stopping the infringements.”

The event drew an employee of the Minnesota Department of Health.

Carl Herbrandson, who works with health issues related to mercury, said he attended the event out of personal interest and curiosity.

The film, which alternated between sections in English and subtitled sections in Spanish, featured testimony from citizens of Choropampa, as well as statements from the doctors who examined them after the spill.