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Demonizing Doe Run

By Alan Caruba
web posted May 9, 2005

You've probably never heard of The Doe Run Company of St. Louis or its subsidiary's copper and lead smelting operation in the small mountain village of La Oroya, Peru, about 112 miles from Lima, but not long ago, the village had a distinguished visitor, Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace and chairman and chief scientist of Greenspirit Strategies. The day he arrived, La Oroya's mayor was leading thousands of marchers.
Were they protesting Doe Run Peru? No. They were demonstrating against anti-mining activists, like Oxfam and groups tied to Christian Aid, the Sierra Club, EarthJustice and Friends of the Earth – to insure continued operation of the facility that is the town's lifeblood.

It wasn't just about jobs, either. Since purchasing the smelter in 1997, Doe Run Peru has launched programs to reduce the pollution that is associated with all such operations. It's also provided funds for healthcare, education, reforestation and hot lunch programs for local children.
Dr. Moore was impressed. He pointed out that Doe Run had inaugurated new water-collection systems for treating storm water and sewage, and implemented "the first-ever community-wide" blood-level surveys and reduction programs, using Centers for Disease Control protocols.

Before Doe Run arrived, the government of Peru and others had owned and operated the facility for 75 years. During all that time, no effort was made to repair damage to the forests and rivers around La Oroya or to improve the health and safety of people who worked in or lived near the smelter. During all that time, the activists were nowhere to be found.

Doe Run Peru has spent nearly $140 million: on pollution reduction and health programs, and to plant 106,000 seedlings, modernize schools, and provide small business and vocational training for nearly 8,000 local women. Some of the women have since started new businesses in La Oroya and neighboring communities. Life has improved markedly.

The villagers know and appreciate this, which is why they are demonstrating for the company and against the anti-DRP activists.

You'd never know that if you read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or watched the CBS affiliate KMOV-TV, a small television station in St. Louis. Instead, you'd hear that DRP was just another capitalist exploiter of natural resources, intent on destroying the lives of La Oroya's poor people.

This well-coordinated attack on Doe Run is yet another example of the war radical groups are waging against industrial enterprises that produce the metals, energy and wood products that are essential ingredients for the houses, computers, cell phones, hospitals, water treatment systems and other modern blessings we enjoy and too often take for granted.

Shutting down the production and flow of these raw materials has become a primary goal of the environmental movement that Dr. Moore helped found and has since rejected. If their efforts throw thousands of Peruvian workers out of work, that's just a shame – or a bonus from the environmentalists' point of view. No wonder he says the movement "has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity." Too often our "mainstream media" has become an active player in these anti-technology, anti-people campaigns.

Many times, KMOV-TV reporter Craig Cheatham has offered his perverse version of what Doe Run Peru is doing. His "investigative news reports" have presented opinions, accusations, and unidentified "experts"; at least one of whom was an anti-mining activist with no expertise in toxicology. They have misrepresented the facts, ignored the 75-year history of neglect, and scrupulously failed to report both Doe Run's improvements and the views of the mayor and other villagers who support mining. About half-way through one recent report, Cheatham finally inserted a few comments by DRP president Bruce Neil, who might have set the record straight, if he hadn't been subjected to the kind of attack journalism normally reserved for serial killers.

Cheatham condemned Doe Run for not redressing 75 years of neglect overnight and the Peruvian government for giving the company more time to reduce air pollution even further. Neil tried to point out that his company's programs had already helped reduce average worker blood lead levels by 31 per cent since 1997, but Cheatham ignored this.

He didn't mention that the activists have, in all likelihood, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on their anti-mining campaign, but have done nothing for La Oroya's people except reportedly to give them some vitamin C tablets, supposedly to help reduce the impact of lead in their bodies. Cheatham and KMOV have refused to say who funded his most recent trip to Peru, but the station manager has said it wasn't KMOV. That has every appearance of a violation of journalistic ethics, further compounding the other sins of commission and omission.

Stories and editorials in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and attacks by students and professors at St. Louis University, have abused the truth in similar ways.

These self-proclaimed champions of humanity are unjustly demonizing Doe Run Peru to further their own agendas. They justify their existence and their attacks by claiming they serve the public interest, but they do nothing to create health or prosperity. In fact, they end up destroying both the means by which these desirable ends are achieved and the lives of people who want to enjoy just a few of the many blessings that we in the developed world view as our birthright.

This is what today's environmental movement is all about. If it sounds anti-American, it is.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba, May 2005

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