Small Andean community honoured for water fight

Women at a February 2010 meeting in Cruz de Mayo, Peru, listen as local and government leaders discuss water rights for their community.

CNS PHOTO | WALTER HUPIU

Women at a February 2010 meeting in Cruz de Mayo, Peru, listen as local and government leaders discuss water rights for their community.

December 26, 2011

With the help of the Catholic Church, the small community of Cruz de Mayo, high in the Peruvian Andes, has been waging a legal battle for nearly four years over the lake that provides its drinking and irrigation water.

In early December, Cruz de Mayo received the Angel Escobar Award from the National Human Rights Coordinating Committee, an umbrella group of human rights organizations, many of which are Church-related.

"Our trout have disappeared and our plants have died. We have lost the peace that once reigned in our community," said Carlos Milla, president of Cruz de Mayo, as 20 community leaders looked on.

"We want to live in peace and harmony with nature. Water is our life. That is why we are defending our Lake Paron."

Water levels in the turquoise, glacier-fed Lake Paron dropped to dangerously low levels during the annual dry season, which was exacerbated by a drought.

The community's farmers, many of whom grow barely enough food for their families to eat, blamed the Peruvian subsidiary of the North Carolina-based Duke Energy, which operates a hydroelectric dam downstream, on the Santa River, and had property rights to the lake.

The farmers blocked the service road to the dam and seized control of the sluice gates in a face-off that lasted nearly two years.

With assistance from the Peruvian bishops' Social Action Commission, they also launched a legal battle over the water, on which they rely for drinking, watering livestock and irrigating crops.