March 19, 2012

Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru, received a death threat just two days after releasing a statement calling for a controversial smelter to meet environmental requirements before being allowed to resume operations.

Two laypeople on the archdiocesan team managing an environmental project to clean up air and water in the Mantaro River Valley, where the smelter is located in the town of La Oroya, also received death threats made from a public telephone.

"They want to silence the voice of truth," Barreto said in a statement after the March 2 threats. "We are not going to turn back. We will stand firm in the defence of life."

The prelate has received death threats in the past related to the smelter. Several years ago, demonstrators in La Oroya displayed a coffin bearing his name.

Emissions from the smelter, owned by Doe Run Peru, a subsidiary of the New York-based Renco Group, have been linked to lead poisoning in La Oroya residents, especially children.

The smelter shut down in mid-2009 because of financial problems but is likely to resume operations this year, possibly as early as May.