MORE THAN A NUMBER Photographs and Testimonies of the Families Contaminated with Arsenic and Lead in the Industriales Neighborhoodâ€”Arica, Chile
First, I have to give my thanks to the families of the Industriales neighborhood who are the essence and the life of this project. Thank you for your trust and for so intimately sharing so much of yourselves and your time with me. I am honored and eternally grateful. Many thanks to the NGO AFCCOMTA, especially to the president, Marta, who introduced me to all of the families and helped me with anything and everything I needed; you truely are an inspiration. Thank you to all of the leaders of the NGO; you are incredibly dedicated and brave women who are going to carry your community to a better future, never give up hope! Many thanks to my advisors and teachers in Chile: Francisco Olivares, Mark Sinclair, Sandra (Choqui) Rojas and Danko Ulloa. Thanks to my advisor at Bennington College, Mirka Prazak, for always supporting me, guiding me and believing in my potential. A million thanks to my Spanish professor and thesis advisor Jonathan Pitcher who helped me edit and organize the entire text. Thanks to my photography professors Jonathan Kline and Jay Muhlin and thank you to the photo technician Jon Barber who was always there to help me with printing issues. Thanks to the Bennington College SEA, whose grant helped make all of the large mural prints possible. Thanks to Peg Carron in White Creek, NY who mounted all of the photographs and has been so willing to work with me as a student. Thanks to Molly Sarle for your encouragement, wisdom and help with the audio portion of the project. Thanks to all of my amazing friends for keeping me positive. Thanks to my homestay families in Arica and ValparaĂso, especially to Luna for your enthusiasm, support and hours of help for my initial editing, scanning and printing! And of course, all the thanks in the world to my amazing parents, Bill and Maya, for funding this entire project (apart from the few outside grants I received) without hesitation, for supporting me in all of my decisions and my studies, for being proud of me when it really counts, and for believing in me and helping me to achieve my dreams.
DISCLAIMER I would like to make it clear that I conducted this research project of photography and testimonies not from a medical or scientific perspective, but from a photo-journalistic and anthropological standpoint. I do not claim that any of the diseases mentioned are 100% directly related to the contaminants because in order to prove that, in-depth scientific and medical study would be necessary. I do state, however, that most, if not all, of the medical conditions that I have presented here have been overwhelmingly linked to heavy metal poisoning, many being commonly acknowledged textbook symptoms of lead and arsenic contamination. Whether the illnesses suffered by these families are the results of-the contamination or not, I am presenting them as what the families have shared with me, being illnesses that they deal with every day, greatly affecting their lives. I believe that fear of the contaminants, along with inadequate medical attention and education regarding the affects of heavy metal contamination has shaped the families to question the origin of all of their health problems, which I believe, in itself, is a form of mental suffering, depression and anxiety, and therefore should not be dismissed or discredited. I also believe that due to a classist and overall poor healthcare system in Chile, all serious medical conditions should be considered and presented. It should also be noted that I asked almost all of the families if there had been a history of their illnesses within their family and not once did someone reply yes. I hope that my project will inspire among many things: legal action on matters of housing, healthcare, education and the environment, a more informative educational program regarding the effects of arsenic and lead, related illnesses and the process of recovery, as well as further and more in-depth medical and scientific study regarding toxic waste, poisoning, recovery and clean-up. Most of the interviews were conducted around a year ago, so it is also possible that facts like age, illnesses, diagnoses, treatments, pregnancies and blood tests have changed, although certain things such as fatalities have been updated as recognized. Thank you.
INTRODUCTION In 1984, 19 thousand tons of toxic metals sent by the Swedish company, Boliden Metall, arrived in the port of Arica, Chile. The Chilean company, PROMEL, was paid to reprocess the materials, and under the title “mud with mineral content,” the Chilean Ministry of Health approved the toxic waste to enter the country. Promel claimed that they could reprocess the metals to extract gold and silver, and therefore dumped the waste products in land owned by Promel on the outskirts of Arica. A few years later, the Chilean government built new housing projects surrounding the toxic dump, on soil that had previously been a landfill, without doing any environmental tests of the soil or air. The toxic waste was never reprocessed by PROMEL, and remained abandoned in the same place, unprotected, until the year 1998. Families began to live in these “houses,” which at the time consisted of dirt full of holes and trash, one wall and a bathroom. They began to build their homes, one room at a time, some spending all of their earnings and many years building. Some told me that they unknowingly used the contaminated soil and toxic waste in the process of construction to level out the ground for their houses. In the first years, there wasn’t a road that ran through the neighborhoods and the families would often have to walk right through the toxic waste to get to school and work. The children played in the “black earth” and every day the wind would blow dust from the toxics into their homes, little by little bringing them illnesses and health problems. They arrived with the dream of owning their own home, something in which they could live for many years, where they could raise their children and their grandchildren. But nobody knew that years later they would all be ill, that their babies would be born with high levels of toxic metals in their blood, that the foundation of their homes would be falling apart due to the gases of the landfill on which they live, that their homes and their land would be worth nothing and that they would be fighting for their rights to live a dignified life, to have healthcare, to be moved to clean soil, leaving their contaminated neighborhood, their homes and their dreams behind. A few years later, around 1997, many families started experiencing similar health symptoms: severe headaches, joint and joint pain, constant nosebleeds, as well as white splotches appearing on many of the children’s skin. They began to suspect that perhaps their symptoms had to do with their environment. With the help of the NGO SERPAJ, the neighborhood urged the government to conduct environmental tests of the land. The results found high levels of 14 toxic minerals in the soil including lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and copper. After that, they took blood and urine tests of 20 children who lived in the contaminated sectors and the results revealed that more than 50% of the children had over 10ug/100ml of lead, which was internationally considered over the amount permitted and therefore dangerous to the health of the children. Those tests provoked more, this time of 5,000 people who lived in those sectors, but the results were given only to the 1000 people who were “contaminated,” while 4000 test results mysteriously “disappeared.” This is what initiated the neighborhood’s lack of trust in the authorities, as well as creating skepticism as to the accuracy of the test results and what was being hidden from them. To this day, many of the families recounted to me that they feel cheated and uncared for by the authorities. In 1998, the toxic waste was moved by the Department of Health two km. from the original site where it was then buried and covered with plastic and heavy rocks. Yet, to this day, the families continue waiting for an answer, living in their houses, with minimal assistance from the government, still suffering from severe health problems related to the contamination. The government’s current plan of assistance will move the families within the next few years into apartments much smaller than their current
houses, where many will lose their businesses and struggle climbing the stairs, or the other option will put them into a used home valued at $22,000 or less, which will allow up to about half of the square footage of most of their already very modest homes. The healthcare plan is limited, and for the time being only includes a clinic that takes blood tests to determine toxicity levels of patients. The clinic at this time lacks specialized doctors and the healthcare policy does not yet cover expenses beyond what is offered at that clinic. For all of the injustices that they have been victim to, I believe that the residents of the Industriales neighborhood deserve much more. They deserve what they are fighting for: a dignified life, homes of equal value and size on non-contaminated soil, complete healthcare coverage for life, scholarships for their children’s education and a community social center which educates on toxins, helps the residents find work, as well as coaches the families through the difficulties that they are still to face regarding their illnesses, their children’s wellbeing and how to cope with the mental problems and depression from which many of them suffer. “Más que un número/More than a Number” is a project that I did in the months of May and August, 2010, working in the contaminated neighborhoods of Arica, Chile interviewing and photographing many of the severely affected families about their struggles, their experiences, their hopes and their dreams. Assisted by the NGO AFCCOMTA and my study abroad program SIT, I spent each day traveling from home to home conducting my studies. Over the course of my senior year at Bennington, I have been able to work with all of the photographs and interviews, the final product of which is shown here. My objective in this project has been to create more consciousness about the problem and, hopefully, to help give the contaminated families a voice, so that they can be recognized as more than a number, as real human beings who have the right to be heard and the right to live a dignified, healthy, secure life.
Marta, the president of the NGO AFCCOMTA
Testimony of Marta Quísbert Olivares (50 yrs) Pasaje Pinto 1391, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 12, 2010
With only a technical degree in social work, Marta, one of the affected neighbors, works as the president of the NGO AFCCOMTA, traveling, investigating and fighting for their rights. It is a difficult job that tests her strength and tolerance dealing with sadness, pain, injustice, discrimination, death and conflict each day. She began her work in 2006, after bringing her son to a physical where the doctor reviewed his health and his entire body, and after the second time, the doctor asked her, “What happened to your son? Did he get in an accident? Did he fall?” Marta didn’t understand because nothing like that had ever happened to him. The doctor told her that her son’s bones were deforming – that he had problems with his skeletal system. “Where do you live?” the doctor asked finally, “Do you know about the issue of contamination?”… and this was the first time that Marta learned about the toxics and the problem of her neighborhood. “From that moment, my life completely changed,” said Marta. “I realized that there must be many more children who are also contaminated. I had to learn about the issue all by myself and soon after I left my normal life and the small business we had behind and decided to dedicate myself 100% to learn, work and fight about this problem… and up until today, I do it for my son. My faith is what helps me and gives me hope. It clears the pathway for me so that I am able to continue fighting.”
Illnesses… Marta – Joint pain and headaches, sometimes has difficulty getting up and walking long distances, she has the beginning stages of osteoporosis. Her husband – Rheumatoid arthritis, “His life has changed completely, there are days that he works (as a taxi driver) and days that he can’t.” Her son (14 yrs) – Has 26 ug/L of arsenic, problems with his skeletal system (bones are deforming), psychological problems and difficulty concentrating. What she wants… “JUSTICE! Evacuation to dignified housing, complete healthcare for life, education for the kids and recognition.”
HĂŠctor and his mother, Bernarda
Testimony of Bernarda Gonzales Gonzales (82 yrs) and Héctor Don Beltrán Gonzales (49 yrs) Avenida Capitán Avalos 1320, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 18, 2010 It was 18 years ago when they saw the neighborhood for the first time. Back then, Héctor was working for the company PROMEL, working directly with the toxic waste. They have had a dirt floor since they arrived, recently covering up parts with a bit of wood. Now they are both suffering from intense pain in the joints and severe headaches. Bernarda has arthrosis. She told me that it feels like her bones are turning into sand, that sometimes she can’t sleep because the pain is so bad and that there is no cure for her disease or pain. They don’t want to go to the doctor because they don’t have health insurance, but Bernarda did tell me that she is very grateful for the doctor she has at the toxic contamination medical center in town, “He is a very good doctor, very warm and friendly. I remember that he sat down next to me and told me that he would take care of me.” They both feel as if the government is cheating them: “They don’t do anything, it isn’t convenient for them to evaluate and diagnose our illnesses, all they do is give us vitamins. President Bachelet’s government had a plan to evacuate us, but with the change of office, we are back to square one.” Recently, Bernarda was diagnosed with bone cancer… they don’t know how much time she has left to live… but they know it is little. Quietly, with her voice trembling and so fragile, she said, “Thanks to God that I am still alive… I pray to him that he gives me one more year, so that I can see my wish of leaving here and living my last years peacefully come true… that is my greatest desire before I die… to live peacefully, without worry and pain.” Illnesses… Bernarda— Bone cancer, arthrosis, migraines and extreme pain in her hands, problems with her vision (can no longer see out of her right eye). Hugo— Extreme pain in his joints: arms, knees and fingers, hernia in the mouth of his stomach, kidneys stones, problems with his vision (for more than 10 years). What they want… “We want to leave the contaminated neighborhoods… even all the plants die here. We want medical help and want them to give us tests and medicines.” Dream… Hugo— “To not live on contaminated soil… to live peacefully in a little house far from here.” Bernarda— “To make the most out of the little bit of life I have left with my son in a respectable house on clean land. To not be so sick.”
“Thanks to God that I am still alive… I pray to him that he gives me one more year, so that I can see my wish of leaving here and living my last years peacefully come true… that is my greatest desire before I die… to live peacefully, without worry and pain.”
Testimony of Matilde Mamani Villafán (53 yrs) Pasaje Nacimiento, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 15, 2010 “I am going to fight until the very end!” declared Matilde, a woman with an unimaginable faith who has lived an incredibly difficult, unjust and painful life, yet even so she has a more amazing spirit, strength and sense of hope than anything I have ever witnessed in my life. From our very first moments together, I felt a connection to her as if she were a mother to me. In all of my time in the Industriales neighborhood, she gave me the most encouragement to continue with my work and to approach it optimistically, with passion and an open heart. I interviewed her the day after she had gotten chemotherapy, and she was in bad shape. Hunched, shaking, coughing and exhausted; in the middle of our interview she had to throw up, violently ridding her body of the pain. Yet, she insisted that we do the interview this day because she wanted me to see her at her worst, especially for my project. That day, she recounted the story of her life to me, about her illness that had arrived one year after they moved to the Industriales neighborhood, how they had lived without a roof for the entire first year, how the dust from the toxic waste had blown in every day, and how they still lived there, with the same dirt floor under the rugs, how they had to walk every day through the toxic waste, and how she had worked cleaning three homes… even when she was extremely ill, how at one moment in her life she had weighed 286 lbs and at another only 55 lbs, still extremely small and frail to this day. She told me about her illnesses, how she had suffered almost constantly since the day they arrived, and how for years she had no clue that it was the environment that was making her sick. She told me about her son, Han, who is developmentally disabled, but who helps her with everything, including cooking and cleaning the house. During our conversation there was an hour in which she cried and cried, letting out all of her pain, her history, all of her hopes and dreams. It was by far the most difficult interview that I conducted, yet it was also the most beautiful and powerful. Matilde, you are going to carry your community, you are going to live to see out your dreams, never give up your faith, never stop believing that there is an answer, and that it will come. Illnesses… Matilde- Chronic kidney disease, lung cancer, diabetes mellitus, receives dialysis and chemotherapy, had a miscarriage at 7 months and has had three other babies die, one at four hours, one at two days and one at one year eight months. Her husband (51 yrs)- He has severe headaches and joint pain… it is very hard for him to work and he is losing some of his mental capabilities and his memory. Her son Han (20 yrs)- Han is developmentally disabled and also has chronic kidney disease. Her other son (31 yrs)- He suffers from joint pain and headaches, Matilde said that he walks like an old man even though he’s young. What she wants… “I want to live for my son and my husband. I want to live in a respectable house… my own comfortable, pretty house with a garden and little animals. A home where I can be with my children and my grandchildren, together… where I can live the little bit of my life that is left. I want to live where I can breath clean, pure air for the rest of my life. I don’t ask for anything else.” Matilde also does not have her own wheelchair. She uses one from the hospital that sometimes isn’t available. She would love to have her own wheelchair… but doesn’t have the means to buy one. Dream… “I have always dreamed of visiting Bolivia… where my mother was born and where she died. To visit her… to visit my homeland. Before I die… (crying)… I would like to see Bolivia.”
â€œI am going to fight until the very end!â€?
M贸nica and Jos茅
Testimony of the Family of José Rojas (56 yrs) and Mónica Jabre (54 yrs) Pasaje Graneros 3445, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 12, 2010 They arrived in the Industriales neighborhood with the dream of owning their own home. Although when they arrived, “There was only a bathroom with one wall and dirt full of holes and trash. In those first years we had only one room where five people slept… we cooked there… some slept on the floor. It was completely open.” They decided to “form something” and with a group of 20 neighborhood women, they began to work selling lunches. In time they were able to buy materials, with the help of FOSIS and the government, and they began to construct an upstairs room and other parts of their home. “We were moving forward...” They remember the first time the government came to test the children for lead and arsenic poisoning. Most of the tests “disappeared” and later when the list of contaminated people arrived the numbers had been “accidentally” changed with a coma separating the numbers so that they appeared smaller. They still feel lied to and cheated. “After this, we began to organize.” A report on Channel 13 came out explaining the problem of contamination and its effects in Arica and finally the authorities began to take interest in the problem. “We began to realize how grave it was to live here… contaminated with toxic metals and living on top of a landfill. We all suffer similar health symptoms… extreme pain in the joints as well as severe migraines.” Now the foundation of their house is collapsing because of the gases from the landfill on which they live. Mónica Jabre is one of the leaders of the grass roots NGO AFCCOMTA, fighting for their rights. Illnesses… Mónica – “I have horrible joint pain. According to my doctor, I don’t have arthritis, but LOOK how the bones of my hand are deforming.” José – José has had three operations on a tumor and now has a large mass in his shoulder that he is worried about. Son (28 yrs) – Suffers from lots of stomachaches, headaches, isn’t able to gain weight and has some mental disabilities. Son (23 yrs) – White spots on his skin Daughter (20 yrs) – Stomachaches and joint pain. “Right now she is pregnant… We are just crossing our fingers that everything goes well!” What they want… “We want to be evacuated from here, to a dignified place. This is the result of an error the government made which is hurting the lives of many people. We are HUMAN BEINGS, we deserve a dignified life and a solution to this problem. A baby is going to enter our lives and our home soon… it can’t live in these conditions. We just hope that God listens to our cries and that the authorities listen…” Dreams… “Our dream is to live in a respectable home, something safe, where our children and their children can live in peace. All that we want is healthcare and a home… money will never bring a solution to our problems.”
“According to my doctor, I don’t have arthritis, but look how the bones of my hand are deforming.”
MarĂa Teresa and her 15-year-old son
Testimony of the Family of María Teresa Castillo Aguilera (45 yrs) and Juan de Dios Tapia Cifuente (52 yrs) Pasaje Granero 3467, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 6, 2010 “When we first arrived here we were happy. But over time we all began getting sick… for a while we thought it was normal. I had chronic asthma and my husband was suffering from intense pain in his bones and joints. But my daughter is the one who is most effected; she has gone from one illness to the next. 2008 was horrible, she had an involuntary eating disorder and couldn’t keep anything she ate down. She went from 154 lbs to 110 lbs in only two months. She was just like any normal girl, smart and strong, but after this she began to struggle in school and we had to take her to live in a different house with clean air for three months. She also suffers from really bad UTIs and to this day she has had problems with her hair falling out. The doctors recently found a high presence of cists in her ovaries and thought they would have to remove them… this affected all of us quite a bit because my daughter wants very much to have children. We thought about moving to southern Chile to escape all of this, but we aren’t able to sell our house. I try to do whatever I can… sometimes we go to our grandmother’s house. The doctors at the clinic have told me how important it is that my family eats healthily, but sometimes we have to eat just what we can afford. It is like we are trapped in all of this… I would sell everything I own so that we could leave here… I would do it for my family… we have seriously thought of doing this if no other solution comes. We are a family of the faith and that is what gives us encouragement and strength. But here we are living in a really tough reality… (crying) … it’s really hard on me.” Illnesses… María Teresa— Has 31 ug/L of arsenic, chronic asthma, headaches— that even with medicine don’t go away, depression, has lost much of her vision and has lost some of her front teeth… “I am really embarrassed and feel depressed because I don’t have my front teeth and in my job presentation is very important. I had enough money to fix them but about a year ago my daughter was also going to lose some of her teeth so I had to spend the money on her. My husband has also lost some of his teeth.” Juan de Dios— Intense bone pain, his cartilage is spent and he can hardly work anymore. Samuel (25 yrs)— Has 44 ug/L of arsenic and they have only given him vitamins. Hija (17 yrs)— Has 18 ug/L of arsenic, has gone from one illness to another, she had an involuntary eating disorder, very bad urinary tract infections, problems with hair loss, a lot of cists in her ovaries. Hijo (15 yrs)— Bone pain and random, very bad headaches, problems gaining weight. What they want… “We want to leave here. To live in a place where we can feel good… where we can breathe. We want a house. And as a mother, I want my kids to be able to stay close. I want to be able to take them to the best clinic possible. I want the authorities to start thinking like human beings… I want them to think about what they would want for their kids and their families… I want them to DO SOMETHING.” Dream… “My dream is for my children, that they have a good life and a better future… they are young still. I dream that they would wake up tomorrow and have no more health problems… that, more than money, more than anything.”
Testimony of Yolanda Jordán Rocher (53 yrs) Pasaje Nacimiento 1476, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 12, 2010
When she arrived, Yolanda sold candies and baked goods and her husband worked for the company PROMEL… every day working with the toxic waste. Now, Yolanda can hardly leave her home. She lives with pain and embarrassment every day, waiting for an answer to her problem. 13 years ago her kidneys dried up and thanks to her sister’s kidney she is still alive. Although, related or not-related to the contamination, what she suffers from most at the present is elephantiasis in one of her legs, which is giant, heavy and extremely swollen. Her leg is so heavy that she almost cannot walk outside of her home. “I can’t even buy normal shoes.” Yolanda spent months in Santiago looking for an answer to her health problems and for a doctor who could empty the liquid from her leg, without any success or solution. Due to the weight of her leg, her spine is deforming. My other leg receives all of the pain… a pain from inside, so strong that it wakes me up at night… (crying)… I have trouble taking a shower. I can’t work… One thing I love is music… I put it on… I listen to it… To help me forget my problems and my pain.”
Illnesses… Yolanda – Dried up kidneys, kidney transplant, elephantiasis in leg, deformed spine, deformed bone in her heel… “It hurts a lot to walk… and on top of all of my problems I also suffer from extreme joint pain, especially in my knees, shoulders and elbows as well as severe headaches… constantly.” Her husband – Headaches and stomachaches, also suffers from chronic diarrhea. Grandson – “He is 13 years old and suffers from pain in his knees and his arms… he has only lived here for a year and a half.” What she wants… “I want health and I want a house that is worth the same as the one that I have now. We have a large house here that we worked all of our lives to create and to make nice. We have three bedrooms upstairs, a large living room and a nice kitchen. I don’t want to live in a tiny apartment… besides, I can’t climb many stairs, just like most of my ill neighbors, they also can’t climb up stairs.” Dream… (crying)…. “The only dream I have is to find a solution for my leg…”
“The only dream I have is to find a solution for my leg…”
Testimony of Roxana Guarache (34 yrs) and Her Children (15 and 16 yrs) Avenida Capitán Avalos 1352, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 15, 2010
Roxana moved to the Industriales neighborhood in 1992 with her mother, who had to leave the neighborhood a few years ago due to extreme pain in her joints. When Roxana was 17 years old she had a son with her husband who was also from the Industriales neighborhood, and at 18 they had their daughter, Nataly. She was living in the contaminated neighborhoods while pregnant, having to walk across the toxic waste everyday to get to work. Before she was six months old, they detected problems with Nataly’s heart. It was too big and she had to be operated on. Then in 2007 they diagnosed the illness IHD (Ischaemic Heart Disease) and had to operate on her again. In 2008, she was diagnosed with an ACA (Anomalous coronary artery). Roxana told me that this time they asked the doctors where Nataly’s heart problems came from and the doctors said that they most likely were caused by the contamination. Before the second operation, Nataly couldn’t do normal things like go out with friends, and to this day she can’t exercise or play sports, since she gets tired after walking for a while or running even a little bit. In addition to all of the difficulty they went through with Nataly’s heart problems, in 2004, their lives changed drastically when their father died of stomach cancer; he was only 33 years old. He had been healthy his whole life, but when he was diagnosed with cancer, he lived only 29 days. “It was incredibly difficult,” Roxana told me through tears, “How was I supposed to tell my two little children… your dad is going to die. I have lived through a lot… I just ask God to give me strength to keep going.” Illnesses… Roxana— Had cancer of the uterus—was operated on and survived, she has gastritis, IBS, anemia, intolerable migraines (takes three pills a day), black dots in her eyes (drying eyes, losing vision, began more than 5 years ago), she can’t have any more kids because of the cancer in her uterus (although she wanted to have one more), has suffered from depression since her husband died. Nataly— Heart disease, ischaemic heart disease, anomalous coronary artery, mitral insufficiency, two operations on her heart, bronchitis, pneumonia. Nicolas—Chronic gastritis and other problems that I am not at the liberty to disclose. What they want… “We want them to get us out of here! We are going to keep getting sicker. Health… I don’t ask for money… I don’t ask for anything else.” Dream… Roxana—“That my children become professionals and are happy.” Nataly—“To finish studying and for my heart to be well. To live a normal life.”
“It was incredibly difficult,” Roxana told me through tears, “How was I supposed to tell my two little children… your dad is going to die.”
Nataly holding a photograph of her family, taken right before her dad died.
Mauricio and Fresia
Testimony of the Family of Mauricio Pizarro (18 yrs) and Fresia Plaza (61 yrs) Pasaje Las Canteras 1371, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 13, 2010
Their family arrived complete and healthy in this sector where they have lived for the last 20 years, eight in the house where they live now. Two years ago, their family went from three to two when the father passed away due to a heart attack. He worked as a truck driver and was 58 years old. Telling me about the father, Fresia began to cry. “It’s ok,” said Mauricio, “she needs to cry… she needs to let the pain out.” Mauricio is studying risk prevention at INACAP in Arica. “I like to study, I am very motivated because I want to have a good future.” Although he also loves to dance… “I dance everything… salsa, merengue, folk… I’m a ballerina! Look, this is my costume!” Mauricio intrigued me from the moment I met him… he has a passion, curiosity and energy for life. His mother, Fresia, is much quieter, but is always supporting her son… and every now and then you’ll catch her smile, in admiration and pride.
Illnesses… Fresia— Suffers from intense migraines and has had an inflamed kidney for the last eight months, owing to which she feels exhausted and isn’t able to exert much force or energy. Her whole body aches. Mauricio— He has a slow heart, although it hasn’t caused complications yet, but besides this, he says he feels completely healthy, and hopefully he can stay that way. What they want… “We want the government to follow through on their promises… TAKE US OUT OF HERE… first, the most affected, and then the rest.” Dreams… Mauricio—“My dream is to dance for the rest of my life, to get my degree and a good job, to leave this neighborhood and to have a family of my own.” Fresia—“My dream is for my son to be successful and happy in his life… and I would like to be able to accompany him for many more years.”
“I dance everything… salsa, merengue, folk… I’m a ballerina! Look, this is my costume!”
Testimony of the Family of Ceferina Zambrano Amaya (56 yrs) Pasaje Pinto 1347, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 22, 2010
Cristián and Marcela live together with Cristián’s mother, Ceferina, in the Industriales neighborhood where Cristián was raised and where Marcela arrived eight years ago. Ceferina is one of the leaders of the NGO AFCCOMTA and Cristián works as a sales person for the company Sodimac. Cristián loves sports, especially soccer, and Marcela likes to listen to music and read. Together, they have one son, although it was their dream to have a large family. Marcela has had three miscarriages, one of which was an ectopic pregnancy and one with malformations. She showed me the ultrasound of one of her babies in her stomach. Thinking about the children she hs lost is still painful, and angers her. Ceferina said, “What has affected me most in all that we have suffered was when my daughterin-law lost her baby girl… she was six months pregnant… we so vividly imagined her in our arms.”
Illnesses… Ceferina (56 yrs)- A lot of pain and problems with her knees and the veins in her legs, back pain, deforming bones, severe migraines (that make her vomit sometimes) and losing her eyesight (eyes are “drying.”) Cristián (33 yrs)- Pain in his joints and severe headaches daily Marcela (35 yrs)- headaches, had three miscarriages Son (7 yrs) – problems with his teeth, an extra tooth grew in behind his upper front teeth What they want… “We want to be evacuated from here, we want a clinic that will improve our health and we want the authorities to listen to us and help our community… to begin to take us seriously!” Dreams… “We dream of a better wellbeing and better health for our family and all of the families that live here… That the future generations are saved.” Son— To continue studying and get a degree
Marcelaâ€™s son who has problems with his teeth
Marcela with a photo of the baby she miscarriaged that had malformations
Their son who has problems with his teeth
Testimony of the Family of Priscila Agüero Muñoz (25 yrs) Pasaje Nacimiento 1412, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 22, 2010
“How many years of the same?” asked Pricilla, a stay-at-home mother of three. “The politicians come, they give us promises, hope, answers, and then they always leave us empty handed. We are still living here and we will haven’t received any help!” Pricilla likes spending time with her kids and in the summer, going to the beach and camping. “I study also, but without good health, it is worth nothing.”
Illnesses… Priscila—Joint pain and headaches, she is also extremely underweight (she eats normally but only weighs 86 lbs.), she has always had problems gaining weight and suffers from a lot of stomachaches. Priscila’s Sister, Yasna (27 yrs) – White spots on her legs, extreme headaches, miscarriage at 17 yrs old, Cancer of the Uterus in 2008 – they operated on her, she survived, but she can no longer conceive. Pricila’s Son (10 yrs) – severe skin problems—it looks as if he has tiny scabs all over his arms and legs, the doctors have yet to figure out what he has or find a cure, he is embarrassed by his skin (always wears long sleeves and pants even when it is hot), it is very much a psychological problem for him.
What they want… “We want health care for life and a specialized clinic for the children. We want a house away from here in a clean environment. We don’t want money… it can’t do anything for us. The health of our kids is all that we ask for!”
Pricila and her son
FĂŠlix and Margarita
Testimony of Félix Adasame Beizaga (57 yrs) and Margarita Quiroga Sepúlveda (59 yrs) Pasaje Gorbea, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 14, 2010 Margarita, the caring and dedicated wife of Félix, came to the door and welcomed me into their home on May 14, 2010. I entered as always, a bit scared, with my camera and my notebooks, but with Margarita’s warm smile, I immediately felt at home. She brought me to her bedroom where her husband lies in bed, unable to move for a little over a year. They have three children and some grandchildren, all of whom live with them in their home in the Industriales neighborhood. Félix, who reminds me a bit of my father, besides his physical state and his health, has a great charisma and sense of humor. He treated me like a father, always joking with me and happy to have me sit next to him on his bed and visit with him in his home. Félix and Margarita told me about Félix’s illnesses and the pain that he has lived with for the last few years, suffering from gouty arthritis, otherwise known as gout. The sickness began in his feet and then moved into his ankles, knees and elbows. Gout causes there to be too much uric acid in the blood, which forms extremely painful crystals in the joints that aren’t easily treated. It is suggested that gout can cause a high number of fatalities from heart problems and strokes, both of which Félix has suffered from. Since his second stroke in 2009, he has been unable to go to the bathroom by himself or get out of bed, and on top of that, he still suffers from severe pain in his joints and his heart is extremely large at 70 cm, the only solution being a complete heart transplant. Before he became ill, Félix proudly worked as a guard. He told me that he got along well with everyone, was always helping out his community and neighbors, and was always a good man to his family. It hurts a lot to see a man so young in spirit, yet so debilitated by his body, without any cure or answer in sight. Margarita attends to him all day, every day, and besides the difficulties, they have an extraordinary, dedicated love that is so clearly visible in their gaze. They were both so open, honest and trusting of me, I will never forget them, especially for the admiral care and dedication in their marriage. Right now, Félix lies in his bed, a photograph of Jesus on the wall above his head, in his dark and simple bedroom. So fragile, dependent and bored with life, he stays, longing for a health, yet still with enough strength to carry on and appreciate all of the things that he does have: family, love and his mind. I wish a beautiful future for all of them, a room with a window and a view for Félix, joy, comfort and purpose in his life, and that the love of family continues on forever. I thank them for so intimately sharing their lives with me and for showing me that beyond suffering and pain, love lives on. Illnesses… Félix— Gouty Arthritis, an enlarged heart (70 cm) and two strokes. What they want… A respectable house on clean soil and something to ease his pain.
Right now, FĂŠlix lies in his bed, a photograph of Jesus on the wall above his head, in his dark and simple bedroom.
bed, a photograph of Jesus on the wall above his head, in his dark and simple bedroom.
Testimony of the Family of Rebeca Acevedo Montecinos (47 yrs) Pasaje Nacimiento, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 23, 2010 My first and most memorable impression of Rebeca’s family is that they are all very close to one another, they care for each other deeply and always greet each other with a heap of hugs and kisses. The mother, Rebeca, worries about the health of her children, and she has reason. “I’m scared. It isn’t a joke,” said Rebeca, who works cleaning up the beaches of Arica and whose husband works as a commercial bus driver between Arica and Santiago. Luciano, her eldest son, who body-boards and is an amazing singer, works as a gas station attendant, but severe lead poisoning from when he was younger has produced the disease osteonecrosis or “avascular necrosis,” which is where a part of the bone dies due to lack of blood supply, and for Luciano it is deforming the bones in his wrist from pumping gas (although he has only worked there for a year and a half). The doctor said that if he continues working and doesn’t get surgery on his wrist, he will eventually lose all joint function. Luciano continues to work at the gas station because he says he doesn’t have any other option… he can’t afford the surgery without working. He remains trapped in the circle without an answer or escape. “I’m not happy… I feel incomplete…” Luciano told me, “there are already things that I can’t do. If this is affecting my wrist now, what will happen to the rest of my body in the future? Really, it’s sad… When I’m 40 years old I’m not going to be healthy like others. I worry, because to live, you have to work… and if I can’t work… how will I eat? How will I survive?” Illnesses… Rebeca- Severe pain in her joints Luciano (28 yrs)- Osteonecrosis in his wrist, he suffers from pain in all of his joints, especially his back and knees. José Manuel (21 yrs)- Suffers from a lot of problems with his stomach, he always has stomachaches, has a lot of trouble gaining weight, sometimes he is sick for long periods of time and the doctors don’t know what he has or a treatment. He has problems with his vision. He can’t exert himself much, although he loves BMX biking and works with his dad on the buses. Son (16 yrs)- He is losing his vision due to a rare disease called Corneal Leukoma. His problems began about 4 years ago. He likes school and studying but has problems reading because of his eyes. He also suffers from joint pain, mostly in his legs. When he was young he had epilepsy. What they want… “We want people to know and recognize that we are sick. We had hope with President Bachelet, but now, with Piñera, we have to start all over again. The clinic that they have created for us is a joke… it’s fake. How is it that all of my neighbors are sick from the contamination and the doctor tells me that we aren’t contaminated? It doesn’t make sense. The soil made my children sick… even animals can’t live here… What am I supposed to believe? What am I supposed to do? These are professionals toying with our lives. I don’t want money... I want HEALTH! I want my family to be evacuated from here.” Dreams… Luciano - “I want to be a singer!” José Manuel - “I want to get my degree and leave Chile… wherever my future takes me.” Son (16 yrs)- “I want to study Marine Biology and be a professional.” Daughter (15 yrs) - “I want to go to the United States and be an extreme sports athlete.” Rebeca - “All I want is for my kids to be well. They are my life.”
“I’m not happy… I feel incomplete. There are already things that I can’t do. If this is affecting my wrist now, what will happen to the rest of my body in the future?”
Luciano, the singer
Jose with his BMX bike
Testimony of the Family of Damarie Haunchicay Fortes (32 yrs) and Glarina Fortes Flores (55 yrs) Pasaje Pinto 1332, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 18, 2010
They arrived with the dream of owning their own home, a place to raise their children and their grandchildren, a place to live a good life. They remember that in those first years they slept in a makeshift tent on the ground, because when they arrived, there was nothing but a bathroom, a wall, and dirt. The kids played on the ground and began to have infections on their skin. Glarina works as a seamstress and her husband, Segundo, worked in construction until 2006 when he couldn’t anymore due to his health. Her daughter, Damarie, has her own catering business. All of the grandchildren play together in a traditional folk-music band. They even made their own traditional costumes. When they arrived, they were all healthy and now they are all ill. They have seen many doctors, who always say that their symptoms are normal, but they’re not! “The doctors don’t do anything, they play games with us. We want real answers, real attention… these are our lives they are playing with!”
Illnesses… Glarina- Diabetic, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, has little ball-like knots in her skin, severe joint pain for the last eight years, headaches Segundo- Because of his illness, (which unfortunately I did not catch the name of in my interview), he lost 66 pounds in three months, he also suffers from joint pain. Damarie- Diabetes, high blood pressure, overweight Grandson (13 yrs)- White spots on the skin, bad headaches and joint pain Grandson (12 yrs)- White spots on the skin, bad headaches and joint pain Grandson (11 yrs)- Problems with school because of headaches Granddaughter (10 yrs)- Headaches and joint pain Granddaughter (4 yrs)- High level of arsenic, pain in her legs and headaches, wakes up in the night crying because it hurts so bad. What they want… “We want to be evacuated from here… but we don’t want to be put in a tiny apartment with one room… we have a large family that lives here. We want a REAL health plan for the kids, help with vitamins, healthy food, everything. The arsenic and lead will never leave the bones. Money won’t do anything for us! We ask for free education for our kids and healthcare for life. We want a better FONASA card… right now we are letter A and because of that we are treated with the poorest medical attention. WE DESERVE BETTER!” Dreams… “Our children’s lives and well being is all that matters to us.” The kid’s dreams: “Study engineering, mining, or business,” “Be a famous chef,” “Be a doctor or an English teacher,” “Study sound design.” “We want to have a good future.”
Carol and Paolo, in front of a wall in downtown Arica that they painted with their crew, â€œResistencia Underground,â€? a few years back.
Testimony of Paolo Bustamante Alcón (24 yrs) and Carol Aguirre Gallardo (22 yrs) Pasaje Pinto 1327 y Avenida Azola 3414, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 10, 2010 Paolo and Carol are friends who rap together in a hip-hop group called “Real Elocuencia.” They are both from the Industriales neighborhood, along with the third member of the group. Their most well known song, “Nos acortan la vida,” “They’re Cutting Our Lives Short,” in English, has taken them all over Chile and to Lima, Peru, where they performed in front of 5 thousand people. They started singing and working together in 2003, when they first formed and belonged to “Resistencia Underground,” a larger group of young people from the neighborhood who were interested in the four elements of hip-hop. In 2008 the group had an abandoned house that they used as their workshop and community center and they started “Eskuela de hip-hop,” “Hip-hop Skool,” in English, where they taught young people about graffiti, music and dance. They told me that the group was really good then because “in the Industriales neighborhood you see a lot of drugs and a lack of interest by the authorities” but with the workshop there was a change in the air; “the young people had hip-hop instead of drugs and delinquency.” But the house lasted only a year, and was then closed down. At the same time the larger group lost some of its members, and therefore some of the energy was lost as well. Paolo said, “For me, hip-hop is life. It’s an escape valve. It has helped me avoid problems in the neighborhood and social pressures. The easiest thing for a young person to do here is to go to the corner and get fucked up. One chooses another path… and for me, it’s music.” Carol added, “Hip-hop and music for us is a method of both protest and defense. It is our way of being able to say what we think, to then carry that message to all kinds of people and to hopefully change the way they think a little, especially the kids.” Right now, their objective as a group is to obtain a new physical space that would be a cultural center for workshops, events, forums, etc. They would also like to continue to rap and share their message on both a national and international level. Carol has her technical degree in teaching Preschoolers, but she would like to study more. Paolo finished his studies in law, but is now studying psychology with hopes of, one day, being able to help the neighborhoods through their problems. Illnesses… Paolo – “Like everyone here… I have problems with my joints, headaches and gastritis… I have a friend who had this problem who now has stomach cancer.” Carol – Headaches and stomach problems. Carol’s Sister (6 yrs) – She has 45 ug/L of arsenic, she can’t play with the dirt or breathe the dust because of the risk of lung cancer. Carol’s Mom – Fibromyalgia (she has between 12 and 18 points on her body that hurt, and takes pain medication). What they want… “We want them to turn in all of the exams that were ‘lost,’ to evacuate all of the contaminated neighborhoods, to give medication and treatment, healthcare for life and those who are responsible should pay for what they have done and go to jail. RECOGNITION. And for the young people, scholarships so that they can study are super important. In other parts people are asking for money, but instead of giving over cash, they should give it in the form of education, so that later the young people can have good jobs.” Dream… Paolo – “To be born again, but in a different place... They have raped all of our emotions… not treated us like human beings. They destined us to be ill… they killed us… and then they left us forgotten… and I believe that all of the problems here, like drugs and delinquency, stem from all that.”
Testimony of Grimalinda Rojas Rojas (47 yrs) Pasaje Pinto 1328, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 8, 2010
Grimalinda and her family arrived in the Industriales neighborhood 20 years ago. “I had dreamed of my house…. MY house… my HOME… building the floor, the rooms… I never thought that the dream of my home would come to this.” Grimalinda worked as a handicraft instructor, and now works through government programs cleaning. Her youngest daughter is in high school and the two elder children work, one as a chauffeur and the other in the supermarket. “My children’s dreams were to be able to study and go to college… but what I make just isn’t enough to be able to send them (crying). I would love it if the government would give them full scholarships so that they could study. I suffer from very bad depression because of all that we have lived through. Now the foundation and walls of our house are horribly cracked and falling apart; we have two feet of air underneath the floor because it was built on top of a landfill. The authorities come here to look at it, they take pictures, we were on TV and then they forget about us. It hurts me a lot to look at my house every day, and because of my vertigo it’s hard for me to leave the house. I recently spent 60 days confined inside. How am I supposed to get better if I am here?” Illnesses… Grimalinda – “Ohhh, hija, I’ve got it all....” Grimalinda suffers from high blood pressure and asthma, had cancer of the uterus in 2009, suffers from depression, vertigo, osteoporosis in her hips, tendonitis in her wrist, is losing her eyesight and has headaches “constantly, they live with me. I take nine pills daily, it would be 15 but I prefer to live with the headaches.” Elvis (26 yrs) – Chronic kidney problems, white spots all over his body, headaches. Glynis (24 yrs) – Depression, suffers from a lot of back pain, has had a skin allergy on her arms since she was little, losing eyesight. Daughter (17 yrs) – Rheumatism (since she was little), severe anemia, losing eyesight and every now and then she has a skin allergy on her legs. What they want… “I want them to give me a house—like the one I have, or better. They don’t want to give us healthcare and I don’t think it’s fair. I want a better healthcare credential that will allow us to go to a clinic with good attention. Because of the discrimination here, at my age, I’m not going to be able to find work and for this I want a pension so that my family can survive. The government thinks this is all a joke… treats us like we were all animals. If they offered me a house that was worth 30 or 40 thousand dollars --- I WOULD TAKE IT AND LEAVE! But with only 22 thousand dollars, like they are offering us, I am only going to be able to find land, and then… how am I going to build a house?” Dream… Grimalinda – “To have my house far from here… a beautiful house.” Elvis – “To study medicine.”
Elvis had spent the two previous days in the hospital for problems with kidney stones, something he has had almost every year of his life. His eyes were full of blood due to extreme increase in blood pressure after receiving so many injections.
Her and her youngest daughter
Anonymous Testimony (42 yrs) Pasaje Graneros 3452, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 5, 2010
She arrived in the Industriales neighborhood in 1990 without any health problems, but five years later she was diagnosed with leukemia, one of the most dangerous types of cancer. She was hospitalized for six months and survived the illness, but it was a miracle she told me. She is better now, but she has trouble working due to severe migraines and pain in her bones. She also tires easily. She lives off of selling arts and crafts and a very small pension from AFP. “I was happy before, working for a big company, and now I can’t… I feel like an old woman already.” She has three daughters, all of whom suffer from health problems and whose blood tests have revealed high levels of arsenic contamination. “Here we can’t feel calm or safe. We continue to be contaminated every day.”
Illnesses… Anonymous— 51 ug/L of arsenic, leukemia (recovered), anemia, horrible joint pain (knees especially) and migraines. Daughter (18 yrs)— Severe problems with depression. Daughter (14 yrs)— 42 ug/L of arsenic, headaches “always,” suffers from nausea, joint pain, learning disabilities, is very aggressive, has trouble concentrating and suffers from depression. Daughter (5 yrs)— 81 ug/L of arsenic, pain in her joints and headaches… “She can’t watch very much TV because she complains that her head hurts,” aggressive, and she gets nose-bleeds almost daily. What they want… “I want to be evacuated from here… but I want to be given a respectable house. I want a clinic with specialists, not like what we have right now where they only take tests for contamination. I want to be compensated for all of the damage that they have done.” Dream… “That I am given a nice house in a beautiful, clean place like we all deserve… and I wish that the children weren’t contaminated.”
Testimony of Santiago Guailla (73 yrs), Gloria Solar Marin (55? yrs) and Katerín Rosario Guailla Solar (20 yrs) Pasaje Las Canteras 1491, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 9, 2010
Santiago and Gloria have a more or less unique family. Their marriage functions more as civil union in which they help each other with what they need but also have their own space. Their adopted daughter, Katy, has lived with them for the last 10 years after being abandoned by her mother. They live in a very simple home, dark, with little furniture and a dirt floor. Santiago was very quiet and did not say much during our interview, but even without many words, I still felt that he was a very warm and kind person. At the end of our brief conversation, he brought up his son, Víctor Antonio Guilla Blaz, who died two years ago of cancer at the age of 49. When I asked Santiago what type of cancer his son had, he responded, “I never asked the doctor much about these things, but his stomach was like this – swollen huge, like a pregnant woman. In 10 days his stomach swelled and he died.” He had kids and a family.
Illnesses… Santiago – High blood pressure, headaches. Gloria – Deaf-mute since birth, has problems with her legs – she can’t walk well, also suffers from headaches. Víctor – Died of (stomach?) cancer. Katy – 42 ug/L of arsenic, headaches. What they want… “We want to be evacuated to a house away from here, compensated for the damage that has been done, and to receive healthcare more than anything. In this moment I am not that sick, but with time, anything could happen…” Dream… “A nice house and money to live.”
“We want to be evacuated to a house away from here, compensated for the damage that has been done, and to receive healthcare more than anything.”
Santiago, holding a copy of his deceased son’s identification card.
Margarita and her son, Alejandro
Testimony of Margarita Riquelme Pinto (53 yrs) and Alejandro Vasquez Riquelme (22 yrs) Pasaje Nacimiento, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 5, 2010
Alejandro, whose test results came back with 261 ug/L of arsenic, has the highest contamination number that I have heard of in the neighborhoods. He seems like any normal young adult, attractive and a bit shy, who likes to play soccer and go on the computer, who doesn’t like to study much and who isn’t very worried about his health. But, to speak with his mother is a whole different story. She worries desperately about the health of her son. “The doctor told us that the only solution is to get him out of the contaminated neighborhoods and into a clean environment and to give him vitamins for 6 months, but we don’t have the money to leave our house and rent somewhere else… I also don’t like the idea of leaving what we have here and all that we have created… our house, our lives. When I heard that my son’s test came back showing that he had 261 ug/L of arsenic I almost died… I was so upset, tears falling down my face. I see my son as being so healthy, and I think how could all this be happening. Now we have to wait for the doctors to examine his lungs… the great danger is cancer. I can’t help but feel so enraged with the government and the people who are responsible for all of this damage… who have profited, while we are all sick and dying.”
Illnesses… Margarita— (arrived healthy) asthma, diabetes, chronic gastritis, high blood pressure, depression Husband— High blood pressure, severe joint pain (takes pain pills) Daughter (30 yrs)— Pain in the bones of her hands Alejandro— 261 ug/L of arsenic, bad headaches and joint pain, sometime becomes dizzy, when he was 11 years old his tests said he had 50 ug/L of lead, also when he was a kid he had nose bleeds all the time. What they want… “We want them to get us out of here… to be evacuated… but not to an apartment. I’m used to the house we have here… I have three children and they all have their own rooms. I also ask for education for my son… a scholarship so that he can study and have a good future.” Dream… Margarita— “My dream is to have a beautiful house with a garden, plants and animals… you can’t plant anything here. I also wish that all the contaminated people would get well.” Alejandro— “That my mother’s dreams come true.”
Testimony of Cecilia Arce Veliz (45 yrs) and her two daughters Pasaje Pinto 1411, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 6, 2010
Cecilia arrived in the Industriales neighborhood in 1992 with her husband (they separated a few years later) and her daughter, Raquela, who was two years old. Her second daughter was born there, who is now 14 years old. When I interviewed them, her daughter Raquela was seven months pregnant, and living with her grandparents because she was fearful of living near the contamination, especially because she had a friend who had lost her baby. Cecilia and Raquela work at the supermarket, Lider, and the younger daughter is in high school. Cecilia told me about the worries she has, some for her daughter who is pregnant and others for her younger daughter who is depressed and doesn’t like to do much; she doesn’t go out with friends and spends lots of time in her room alone in a bad mood. They still live with a dirt floor, and much of their house, besides the kitchen and the bedrooms, is open and roofless.
Illnesses… Cecilia – Lots of headaches and at times joint pain (when it is cold they hurt a lot). Raquel (20 yrs) – Bronchitis, really bad headache and dizziness (started getting them when she was 10 or 11 years old). Daugther (14 yrs) – Her hair often falls out, white spots on her face, headaches and joint pain (the cold makes it hurt), sometimes very inattentive, depressed and has trouble reading and retaining information. Cousin (19 yrs) – Has Leukemia, anemia (hematocrit of 28), can’t work and has pain in her spinal column. What they want… “We want them to move us somewhere else to live that is safe… here we are more and more contaminated each day. We want to reclaim our lives and we want compensation for the damage. I also want a respectable home to live in and education for my daughters.” Dream… “That my daughters can achieve their dreams to continue studying and recover from their illnesses so that they can have a good future and develop as women and adults despite the fact that they are contaminated.”
They still live with a dirt floor, and much of their house, besides the kitchen and the bedrooms, is open and roofless.
Cecilia and her youngest daughter in front of their bedrooms
Testimony of Nancy Alvina Ayca Zamora (44 yrs) and Juan Antonio Fernández Nuñez (45 yrs) Pasaje Gorbea 1348, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 6, 2010
When I arrived at Nancy’s house, she was there watching her grandchildren, even though she was obviously very ill. She didn’t have much color in her face, her eyes were sunken, she walked slowly and painfully and had a horrible and constant cough. She spoke very quietly and didn’t have much energy to do the interview, but she did it anyway. Nancy is the most ill of her family. It was five years ago when she began to get sick. She now suffers from intolerable headaches, she has chronic hepatitis C, hypothyroidism, gastritis, and she had the flu when I interviewed her. She told me that for the first few years their family lived in only one bedroom. With her husband, they began to build their house, wall by wall, and now there are 16 of them who live there, including her kids and their kids. One of her grandchildren, Roberto’s daughter, was born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia and they had to operate on her. The doctors believe that it was due to the high amount of lead her mother had from living right next to the toxic waste.
Illnesses… Nancy— Losing her memory and her sight (for the last two years), she suffers from intolerable headaches, she has chronic hepatitis C, hypothyroidism, gastritis, and she had the flu when I interviewed her. [It should be clarified that one of her illnesses, hepatitis C, is contracted through the blood and therefore most likely is not a result of the toxins]. Juan Antonio— He has an allergic reaction to the dirt that itches and forms scabs on his skin. Roberto (21 yrs)— He had nosebleeds almost daily when he was a kid, also had foot problems from playing in the dirt. Paulina, Katy and Yisenia (22, 23 and 25 yrs)— They all suffer from bad headaches and bone pain. Grandson (7 yrs)— Very small, sometimes his legs hurt and he can’t play soccer. Granddaughter (11 months)— Born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. What they want… “We want them to give us a dignified home. As a mother… I want my kids and my grandkids to get out of here… I think that in five more years I might not be around… my time has passed. I want my family to receive healthcare and good medical attention. Also, I would like compensation for the damage that has been done to us… it’s only fair.” Dream… “That they give my children a home so they can leave here. That they are healthy.”
Testimony of the Family of Judít Martin Ponse (39 yrs) Pasaje Las Canteras 1343, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 13, 2010
Judít, the mother of four, works washing linens and her husband works as a truck driver between Arica and Santiago. Their family moved to the Industriales neighborhood without any idea of the contamination, like all the rest. They began with pain in the bones and joints, and now the tests are coming out and revealing that they are all, in fact, contaminated, including the baby who was born with the contamination. “This isn’t a game,” said Judít, “this is death. The clinic that we have doesn’t do anything. All they have done is taken tests of our contamination levels and given out vitamins to the children. Our house is worth nothing now… It isn’t easy. We are trapped here, with families and children, and unable to move elsewhere.” Two of her daughters have their own families, but they all still live together in their contaminated home in the Industriales neighborhood. When we were outside of their house taking the portraits, there was a dog lying on the ground that had big gaping hole-like lesions all over him. They told me that that was normal there; that all of the animals are sick too.
Illnesses… All suffer from joint pain, headaches, and high levels of arsenic and lead in their blood. What they want… “I ask for a clinic that will serve us for life. I don’t want money… I want health! I want them to get us out of here… and not put us on top of another trash dump. I want something DIGNIFIED!” Dreams… Judít— “I don’t have any desire to dream… my dreams are dead. They say that they are going to help us and they never do anything. I want a house on clean land.” Daughters— Want to keep studying and be something in life.
It isnâ€™t easy. We are trapped here, with families and children, and unable to move elsewhere.â€?
Testimony of Beisy Caipa Varela (40 yrs), her daughter (17 yrs) and Carlos Araya Rainuaba (21 yrs) Pasaje Nacimiento 1455, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 5, 2010 Beisy, a hair stylist, works in her home where she lives with her daughter and her “adopted” son, Carlos. Illnesses… Beisy— Depression, hyperthyroidism, white spots on her skin (on her face—but she uses make-up to cover them), she had a miscarriage 15 years ago, suffers from joint pain and headaches. Daughter— 54 ug/L of arsenic, white spots on her skin, joint pain, horrible headaches, sometimes her hands tremble, when she was little she got nose bleeds almost every day (this happened to all of the neighbor’s children too), they are worried about her lungs and the risk of cancer, she has a bad temper, is aggressive and can’t exert herself much. Carlos— 57 ug/L of arsenic, severe joint pain and headaches (sometimes so bad that he has to go lay down in the dark until they go away), a bit depressed, has the skin disease Rosacea. What they want… “What the authorities are offering doesn’t do anything for me… I am already ill, there’s no fixing that, and the apartment that they’ll give me won’t even be close to the value or size of the house that I have now. I can’t even do my work out of an apartment… and this is what I have done all my life… but I would accept the apartment just for my daughter’s sake, so that she could get out of here. On top of all of this, you can’t tell anyone where you come from or where you live because it is impossible to find a job… they immediately think you are sick, that you could have cancer or something, and nobody wants to deal with that. Furthermore, the clinic that they have provided us isn’t worth shit if you ask me! It is disorganized and lacks a lot. To me, it just seems as if they aren’t taking us seriously. The authorities come, make promises and then don’t do anything. We aren’t interested in money… we are interested in HEALTH. I want them to start treating us like human beings.” Dream… Beisy— “I don’t have any more dreams…” Carlos and Beisy’s Daughter— “To get scholarships to be able to keep studying.”
Testimony of Yisenia López Cruzat (47 yrs) and Eduardo Urriola Aguilera (48 yrs) with their six daughters. Pasaje Nacimiento 1323, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 8, 2010
Yisenia, Eduardo and their younger daughters live in their home in the Industriales neighborhood. Yisenia works for a company that sells American clothing and Eduardo works as a driver for a transportation company. The three younger daughters (11, 12 and 13 yrs) study and the other three work. They have been close to many people who have died there: Yisenia’s mother’s partner at 56; Yisenia’s sister, who was 27, and was diagnosed one day with stomach cancer and a week later she died; they also knew a neighbor who passed away. Not even the animals that live there are healthy, they told me. Their daughter Carol has been the most affected of their family. She has many health problems, the most difficult being that she cannot get pregnant. She has already had two molar pregnancies that ended in miscarriages and was recently diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. She is 24 years old and her greatest dream is to be able to have kids and a family.
Illnesses… Yisenia – Headaches and joint pain, especially in her knees and hips, white spots on her skin. Eduardo – Joint pain and headaches every day. Rosa (32 yrs) – Headaches and kidney problems. Carol (24 yrs) – Cannot get pregnant, has polycystic ovarian syndrome, has had two molar pregnancies ending in miscarriages, she also has spinal deformation, back pain, vision loss, kidney problems, skin problems –white spots and scabs, chronic gastritis, stomachaches, she was hospitalized twice last year for kidney stones and infections. Valerie (22 yrs)– Suffers from headaches and stomachaches. What they want… “That they get us out of here immediately! We want them to give us a solution to this problem, a house and healthcare for the girls. We also want education in the form of scholarships so that my daughters can study and be professionals. Dream… “That my daughters become professionals. That is my biggest dream.”
Yisenia, with arsenic spots on her skin.
Carol has already had two molar pregnancies that ended in miscarriages and was recently diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. She is 24, and her greatest dream is to be able to have kids and a family.
Carol and her husband
Carol has had this wound on her ankle for 10 years. She told me that when she was younger she played a lot in the contaminated earth and she believes thatâ€™s where it came from.
Testimony of Ruby Duvo Videla (26 yrs) and her niece (14 yrs) Pasaje Las Canteras 1441, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 6, 2010
Ruby’s son, who is now two years old, was born prematurely at only six months and after just being born his tests showed he had 58 ug/L of arsenic, an extremely high level for anyone, especially a newborn. Ruby and her other son’s tests came out with 19 ug/L of arsenic, and they arrived in this neighborhood only five years ago. Ruby’s niece’s tests came out with 52 ug/L of arsenic. As a 14-year-old teenager, she doesn’t think much about what it means to be contaminated. She is a high school student, but she doesn’t like studying, she’d rather listen to music. She said that she feels fine, but also that she doesn’t really know what to think or feel; no one has explained to her what arsenic does to people. When I asked her what she thinks about the situation, she said, “It’s like, people die from this shit – lead and arsenic… it goes into their bones. There’s a lot that scares me… but I don’t really know.” Illnesses… Ruby— 19 ug/L of arsenic Her Sons— 58 ug/L and 19 ug/L of arsenic Niece— 52 ug/L of arsenic What they want… “We want to leave this neighborhood. Education. Healthcare… The authorities promise many things, but don’t follow through with anything.” Dream… Ruby—“That they help us, especially the kids.” Niece—“I would like to travel, to get out of Arica and go see concerts.”
After just being born his tests showed he had 58 ug/L of arsenic.
Ruby and her son
Testimony of Amparo Jabre Vera (50 yrs) Pasaje Graneros, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 11, 2010
Amparo and her family arrived in the Industriales neighborhood in 1991. They were happy and thought that they were going to own a home, but when they arrived it was just a bathroom. They built their home little by little. Now, the foundation of their home is falling apart because of the landfill below but they can’t fix it. Amparo is the homemaker, but she also makes dolls to sell, as well as washes and irons. One of her sons is in high school and the other works away at a mine outside of Iquique. Like many of the women in the Industriales neighborhood, Amparo had two miscarriages while living there. These days she is worried about her family and their health and wellbeing, and is tired of waiting for an answer… but without anything else she can do, she keeps waiting.
Illnesses… Amparo – Joint pain (her elbows mostly), her teeth are falling out, vision loss, had two miscarriages while living there, one in 1990 (she was 6 months pregnant and the baby died inside of her), and the other in 1992. Her husband – Horrible joint pain (elbows, shoulders and legs), he has a bad leg – his knee hurts a lot, vision loss. Eldest son – Joint pain and headaches. Youngest son – He has always suffered from headaches and white spots appeared on his neck and shoulders. What she wants… “That they get us out of here… we need to leave because every day we are getting sicker. We have always fought to receive a respectable home… we have sacrificed everything for our house here and now it is falling apart and we can’t even fix it. And, of course, we are asking for healthcare and good medical attention.” Dream… “Health… that we would all be well, a comfortable home, a stable job and that my kids would be able to go to college and continue their studies.”
Michael, Erminia and Carlos
Carlos Anselmo Torrico Álvarez (61 yrs), Erminia Luisa Elgueta Ávilez (63 yrs) and their son, Michael Hans de Jesús Torrico Elgueta (20 yrs) Pasaje Gorbea 1316, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 11, 2010
Their family arrived in the Industriales neighborhood in 1992. At that time Carlos worked for a welding shop. Nowadays he still welds every once in a while and does other small jobs when he can, but he and Luisa are both early retirees because of their illnesses. Their son, Michael, works for the company Sodimac, but he would like to go to college and continue studying. He likes all types of music and playing soccer, although he suffers from bad pain in his legs, and therefore can’t play much. Carlos makes furniture and tables out of discarded iron and Luisa makes embroidered tablecloths, not to sell, just for the house and for family. They showed me a few of the tablecloths; beautiful, with vibrant colors and flowers. “It’s a form of therapy for me,” said Luisa, “to help me forget about all of our problems and what we are going through.”
Illnesses… Carlos – Deaf in both ears 45%, vision problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, diabetic retinopathy – can’t use glasses, they operated on both of his eyes but he still doesn’t see well, he suffers from joint pain, especially in his legs – it was his knees before, he has difficulty climbing stairs, he spent 40 days hospitalized when his feet were operated on because they were swollen, white spots on his skin and he takes 15 pills every day. Luisa – Heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney problems (has to have dialysis), really bad depression that began three years ago (she takes medication), lots of stomach aches, pain in her legs and arms and she takes 10 pills every day. Michael – Joint pain, especially in his knees, fatigue, when he was 14 they tested him for lead and found high levels, then in 2000 they sent him to do more tests to confirm but the results never arrived… they said that they lost them. To this day they haven’t gotten an answer. What they want… “Better medical attention and food to live on. We want to leave here but where are they going to throw so many people? That’s what I worry about…” Dream… Luisa – “To have enough to live comfortably. Not to have to think about what I am going to do to feed my family tomorrow… to not have to wake up and think that I only have two dollars… and that that isn’t enough to buy food for the day. To be able to pay for our medical treatments and food at the same time.” Carlos – “To be better.” Michael – “To keep studying so that I can get a good job and be able to help my family.”
Testimony of Hugo Cortéz Valencia (76 yrs) and Ana Varas Pizaro (66 yrs) Pasaje Nacimiento 1367, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 20, 2010
When I arrived at Hugo and Ana’s home, Ana brought me up to their bedroom where Hugo was sitting on a chair next to the bed, unable to move around easily. I sat on the edge of the bed next to him, facing the television, looking out the windows and around the room that is all he sees every day. Until 2005, when he could no longer work due to the severity of his emphysema, Hugo worked as a taxi driver. For the past two years, he has hardly been able to walk and has needed oxygen full-time. Ana used to work doing many things, as a seamstress’ assistant and a cook, but when she turned 60 she stopped working. Until a year ago, they ran a small convenience store in the front of their house, but they had to sell everything in order to pay for Hugo’s oxygen, the hospital bills and doctor visits. “Thanks to God we have our children, we practically live off of them. Right now we can only afford to pay for the oxygen. We have a beautiful house here that we don’t want to have to leave. We worked all of our lives and gave everything to be able to have it… years of sacrifice are in this house! It wasn’t even a land seizure… we bought our property… even though when we arrived there was only a bathroom and a wall… it isn’t fair,” they said to me. They expressed that they feel cheated and deceived by the authorities that created this damage.
Illnesses… Hugo— Severe emphysema, needs oxygen full time, can walk very little Ana— A lot of pain in her bones and also has skin problems Daughter (31 yrs)— Headaches and joint pain, sometimes gets dizzy Grandson (2 yrs)— Was born with 23 ug/L of arsenic (and his mother only lived in the Industriales neighborhood for 7 years) What they want… “We want our grandchildren to be healthy more than anything! We are already old, so all we ask is for them. We pray that this doesn’t happen to anyone else… there’s no way to take back what has been done… that it doesn’t happen ever again in the future!” Dream… “HEALTH… without health there is nothing… that is all we wish for. It is impossible to enjoy the beautiful home we worked for all our lives without good health.”
Hugo and his grandson
Testimonio de Yéssica Johanina Cartes Correa (26 yrs) and Jeannette Ilse Correa Correa (48 yrs) Pasaje Las Canteras, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 12, 2010 Yéssica, the daughter of Jeanette (one of the leaders of AFCCOMTA), is 26 years old and grew up in the Industriales neighborhood. She still lives in her home there with her family and she works as a kindergarten teacher. She loves her job and working with the kids, and when she isn’t working she likes spending time with her daughter, going out with friends and being with her family. Despite her happiness now, she lives with a lot of sadness for the family she could have had. When she was 20 years old, she got pregnant and was excited and looking forward to having a baby. At the beginning, everything was fine, but at four months she started having symptoms of a miscarriage… bleeding, etc. She went to the hospital where they declared her to have a high-risk pregnancy. They did an ultrasound to see the extent of the risk to the baby, but the doctor said that there weren’t any problems and that the baby was fine. She continued with her pregnancy but at seven months she went to the hospital again because she was bleeding a lot and having contractions. They couldn’t stop the contraction and did another ultrasound. They could see that the baby wasn’t in position to be born but was born anyway. After they brought Yéssica to the recovery room the doctor yelled at her. He asked if she had done drugs, drank alcohol or done anything that could have harmed the baby. She didn’t understand because she never had. The doctor told her that her baby had many malformations: a cleft palate, a collapsed lung, a dilated heart and polydactylism (six toes on each foot), but her face was perfectly normal. The doctors didn’t understand why the baby had so many malformations; he had Patau syndrome (trisomy 13). He lived for only two days and then died. After Yéssica had told me the story, she said, “I am never going to forget my son. I was with him for seven months… I smiled for seven months, I prepared all of his things (crying)… it hurts… he was my son…” The doctor had never before seen a case like this related to the contamination, but after the TV program “Contacto” came out, Yéssica realized that many other women from the neighborhood had also lost babies. Four months later Yéssica had to go to the hospital again because she was bleeding a lot. They did an ultrasound and operated on her… they discovered that she had had another miscarriage. She didn’t know she had been pregnant. Five years later, “Thanks to God, my daughter Millaray was born.” Millaray, a Mapuche name, means “golden flower.” Illnesses… Jeanette – Headaches and joint pain, vision problems and impotence. Yéssica – Lost two babies – one was born with malformations (Patau syndrome) and died in two days and the other she aborted a few months into the pregnancy. At this time her joints hurt (her hands and knees more than anything and especially when it is cold). She also has vision problems. What they want… “Evacuation and health… for my daughter more than myself.” – Yéssica “When the doctors said that my daughter was a drug addict and that it was her fault that she lost her baby… that affected me a lot, and when I have spoken to my neighbors, the same has happened to them. They have treated us like dirt for being contaminated. We have suffered a lot of discrimination… I don’t want money; I want justice! I want them to admit what happened and that they are guilty. I want them to give us back the dignity of human beings.” – Jeanette Dream… Jeanette – “That my grandchildren would be healthy… (crying) … and that we be recognized as human beings.” Yéssica – “To be able to go back in time… to never have come here… and to have my children. I would be the happiest person in the world if I could have them both.”
Testimony of Fernando Aguirre Monroy (20 yrs) Pasaje Pinto 1495, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 11, 2010
Fernando, who is 20 years old, grew up in the Industriales neighborhood. He studies business administration and when he is finished would like to work for a company related to his studies that he likes a lot. His family used to have their own small business buying and selling perfume and his mother worked for a while at the large farmers’ market, “El Agro.” Now his mother sells clothes and his family is separated, but both parents live in the same neighborhood. Fernando likes hip-hop music and likes to rap songs about social issues. Before, with a friend, they traveled all over Chile rapping but right now they are both too busy with their studies. He told me that his family has been affected most by the contamination psychologically: “They’re very depressed, nervous and stressed… it has affected us as a family a lot.”
Illnesses… Fernando – Panic attacks – he’s in treatment, they told him that he had the first stages of epilepsy, he suffers from joint pain (ankles and knees – can’t walk for long distances and can’t play much soccer with his friends), really bad headaches, hearing loss, stomach problems and difficulty concentrating – “I’m always attentive but I constantly have to work to pay attention.” Brother (14 yrs) – High blood pressure, very nervous, headaches and joint pain, he gets frequent fractures in his bones – 2 last year for minor falls). Mom – Has a problem in one of her eyes and headaches. Dad – Severe depression and other problems. What they want… “I want them to get us out of here. I want specialized healthcare with better attention. Right now the doctors don’t even believe what people say their problems are. I want more specific treatments and medications. Also, I want education. We should be given more opportunities to study in the form of scholarships because there are a lot of kids here who have learning problems and difficulty concentrating.” Dream… “To live in a clean place with my job, to not have pain and to live peacefully. I would like to have a family someday… but I have a lot of friends that have tried and can’t and they think it is their fault… nobody knows if their child is going to come out normal or if they can even have one. My dream was to become a marine but the pain in my joints was so bad that I realized I couldn’t do it. I had to start all over again and that’s why I am studying. All of it is really frustrating.”
Testimony of Constanza Michelle Astorga Muñoz (19 yrs) and her siblings Pasaje Pinto 1431, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 10, 2010
Constanza and all of her siblings who have different fathers live with their grandmother in her home in the Industriales neighborhood. When I went to their house, Constanza, who is only 19 years old, was there cooking for her brother and sisters; hotdogs with vegetables and spaghetti. She told me mostly about her little brother, whose dream is to be a professional soccer player, but who has growth problems, joint pain, very fragile bones and constant nosebleeds, and therefore he has to be very careful and often can’t play soccer. They told me that overall they feel used and bad because the contamination doesn’t just go away, because now their house is worth nothing and because people from outside discriminate against the people who live there… they are known as the people contaminated with lead and arsenic. They wish to be like everyone else, known for their hobbies or their studies, not for being poisoned and ill.
Illnesses… Grandma – Joint pain, headaches and vision loss. Constanza – Joint pain and headaches. Sister (16 yrs) – Gastritis, growth problems, joint pain and headaches. Sister (15 yrs) – Joint pain and headaches. Sister (13 yrs) – Joint pain and headaches. Brother (12 yrs) – Growth problems, learning problems, bad pain in his joints and bones, fragile bones, headaches, constant nosebleeds (they had to operate on it – burnt his vein to stop the bleeding) and because of this he can’t play sports for a few months. He also has trouble playing soccer because he’s in pain. What they want… “To leave here… and we want them to help us economically so that we can afford to eat a more nutritional diet, which is what the doctors recommended for those who are contaminated. Also, scholarships for education so that my siblings can continue studying and get their degrees.” Dream… Constanza – “To finish my studies and take my family away from here.” Her Sisters – “To leave Chile, travel to the other side of the world and to study.” Her Brother – “To be a professional soccer player.”
Her 12-year-old brotherâ€™s dream is to be a professional soccer player, but because he has growth problems, joint pain, very fragile bones and constant nosebleeds, he has to be very careful and often canâ€™t play.
Constanza and her younger siblings
Testimony of Myriam Del Pilar Becerra Gómez (45 yrs) and her son (17 yrs) Pasaje Pinto 1363, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 12, 2010
Myriam is one of the leaders of the NGO AFCCOMTA, fighting for her rights and the rights of her neighbors. When she arrived with her family in 1991, she didn’t work because she was pregnant, but her husband worked right next to the toxic waste, unknowingly. Now he works as a mechanic for a mine outside of Arica and Myriam works as a leader for the NGO, and on Sundays they sell chicken dinners together. She also belongs to a dance group for women in the neighborhood. “It is a really beautiful experience,” she said to me about the group, “We have events and costumes. It is going to continue… and it’s important because it grew out of everything that has happened to us.” Myriam has a 17-year-old son who is in high school. Like all young boys, he likes to play soccer, but he is also unique for his age, because, like his mom, he is very interested in what is happening with the neighborhood. “It’s time,” he said, talking about the authorities and the problem, “¡Something needs to be done NOW!” He wants to study electromechanics, but he has problems in school concentrating and has had to repeat two years. “There should be a special education program for the kids who have problems and scholarships so that they are able to continue studying,” said Myriam, “That’s what we are fighting for.”
Illnesses… Myriam – Severe anemia (hematocrit of 26 – serious danger of leukemia) – has spent a lot of time in bed for this and suffers from fatigue, also lots of headaches (constantly), vision loss (for five years), really bad joint pain (in the knees more than anything) and has kidney problems. Son (17 yrs) – 47 ug/L of arsenic, difficulty concentrating, his legs hurt (especially when he plays soccer), he had very frequent nosebleeds when he was little and has anemia. What they want… “We have to leave! We want to be moved to dignified housing, at least to land that is the same size as what we have now… we have sacrificed so many years and so much building. We want comprehensive and complete health care and education for the children.” Dream… “That everyone had the perfect solution, that none of this would ever have happened and that nobody was affected… but, as this is reality, I hope that a solution comes this year for everyone and that they get the people who are in the gravest situations out immediately.”
Testimony of Fernanda Santos Ticlle (42 yrs) Calle Graneros 3479, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed August 12, 2010
Fernanda came to the Industriales neighborhood with her husband and her children, and when she learned of a close neighbor who had a miscarriage two weeks before the baby was supposed to be born due to the contamination, she decided to become one of the leaders of AFCCOMTA. “Before we came here I was a really dynamic person,” she told me, “I would help with work and do things for the house… but after a time living here, I started to feel down. I didn’t have a desire to do much. I started having and still have bad fatigue and my hands ache. I am not very sick right now, but I know what awaits me… and that makes me upset. My daughters’ arsenic tests came out very high, which scares me. We wanted to give them a better quality of life… their own bedrooms in the house… but how can we? We can’t fix up the house anymore. It’s hard to understand our rage, frustration and feelings, but we didn’t ask to come here and live this… and we didn’t come here alone, we brought our children. How did they let this happen? I ask… They knew about the toxics… we didn’t. They owe us a debt and no matter what they need to fix this situation… I’m not saying please.”
Illnesses… Fernanda – Suffers from fatigue and her hands ache. Daughter (9 yrs) – Has 82 ug/L of arsenic and problems with concentration. Daughter (6 yrs) – Has 55 ug/L of arsenic and problems with concentration.
Dream… “Justice and to have my home.”
Jose with x-rays of his spine
Tribute to and testimony of José Luis Campusano Tello (32 yrs) Pasaje Pinto 1331, Barrio Los Industriales III Interviewed May 12, 2010
Sadly, I share that the young José Luis Campusano Tello passed away on the first of January, 2011, at the age of 32. When I met José in May, he wasn’t well, but never would I have imagined that he would have died so young. At that time he was taking 20 pills a day to live and had many severe health problems, all of which had come after his family moved to the Industriales neighborhood. His whole family arrived healthy, he told me, and 20 years later they were all severely ill. I remember that during our interview he was embarrassed to show me the inside of his home where he lived with his family. It was a simple home that still had a dirt floor, but he showed me his room, which was the best in the house, with a large bed, painted walls and a large television. His parents wanted him to have something nice despite all of his suffering. He told me that he wished he could live in a beautiful house where he could host friends without shame. He wanted to be healthy, without needing to take so many pills every day, which hurt his stomach, his appetite, and greatly affected his life. He said to me that he felt as if the government and the doctors treated him like a joke. They told him that his illnesses were caused by bad nutrition, yet, this was a lie, because even though his family lived simply, he had always eaten well. The doctors found, on top of all of the illnesses he already had, three tumors in his brain. He was never evacuated from the contaminated neighborhoods before he passed away, even though it was his greatest desire. In my dreams, the friendly, energetic and brave José will continue to be remembered for what he suffered and will go on to represent all of the people of the Industriales neighborhood fighting for their rights and against the injustices that they have experienced and lived, that have ended the lives of such innocent and ignored individuals like José. May you rest in peace. You will never be forgotten.
Illnesses… José – “I’ve got everything honey… severe headaches and joint pain, I am epileptic and asthmatic, I have problems with my memory and my vision, the bones of my pelvis are separating, I have heart and kidney problems, serious psoriasis of the skin and problems with hair loss.” What he wants… “Leaving here is the most important thing to me. I want to live in a respectable house, where I can be comfortable and enjoy the rest of my life with my family. Also, I would love to be well and cured of all of my illnesses, especially because I am still so young.” Dream… “A nice home and a good life.”
Tribute to Yaqueline Flores (46 yrs) Pasaje Nacimiento, Barrio Los Industriales III
With regret, I write that they beautiful and brave Yaqueline passed away at the end of 2010 after a long hard fight against kidney cancer. More than two years before she died, the doctor told her that she had only four months to live; living as long as she did was a miracle. She left behind her 16-year-old daughter, her husband and her brother. “The only thing I want is for my daughter to be taken away from here,” she told me the first time we spoke. But up to her final day, she never received any assistance from the government. When I met Yaqui, she didn’t have much hair, had large open sores on her skin, tired eyes, a swollen face, thin and fragile arms and legs, her waist was bloated from the cancer, and she had trouble getting around without a wheelchair. She told me that many people had come to meet her and visited the community, had made great promises making them full of hope, but that it was all just a political game and that they were always empty promises, leaving them wasted and desperate. Yaqui didn’t want to be interviewed or photographed, which I understood and respected, but she allowed me to sit by her side and she shared a bit of her life with me. Seeing Yaqui, being in her presence, holding her hand and listening to her story was something extremely painful for me, I couldn’t help but cry. At one point, she cupped her hands around my face and told me not to be afraid; I felt like a little girl, sad for having witnessed so personally the injustice and the pain of the world. When I returned home that night, I couldn’t get her out of my mind, and up until this day I haven’t forgotten her; I never will. Yaqui will remain with us in our thoughts and minds as a symbol of valor and strength; she will forever remind us of why we are fighting.
The leaders of the NGO AFCCOMTA
CONCLUSION Please, tell me if this situation seems normal to you... on one street in these neighborhoods, almost every single house has residents with grave illnesses, for example, 6 people have terminal cancer, 5 have failed kidneys, there are 10 people with respiratory and or lung problems, 15 kids are hyperactive and have difficulty learning, 4 women in their early 20’s have had cancer of the uterus, 8 more women have had miscarriages, 4 of these with malformations, and almost every single adult, and half of the children suffer from severe migraines and joint pain, and on top of that many of them are losing their eyesight due to their eyes “drying.” Moreover, we are talking about more than just numbers we are talking about real people, human beings, it could be anyone or better yet, us. And how would you feel if you lived on this street? Would you be worried about your children and their future? And if your contamination tests came back saying that you weren’t contaminated at all, although you suffer from many of these symptoms, would you believe the authorities who gave you this test or in the doctors who are paid by the government? What would you do? The NGO AFCCOMTA was created by a group of women who did not want to continue living contaminated, with health problems, always worried about the future of their children and with no answer or help from the government for the harm that they have suffered. Many of these women, especially the president, Marta Quisbert Olivares, left behind everything to work and fight for this. They have an incredible dedication and strength, something that I could only really understand after living and working at their side. Without degrees in medicine, law, public relations, social work, journalism or psychology, these women are working in all of this, and with a lot of power. Because of them, the program “Contacto” by Channel 13 came out with a show completely dedicated to the problem of contamination in these neighborhoods, which was really the first time that people in Chile became aware of the problem and the history behind it. After the show came out, the government began creating a master plan for how to deal with the contaminated neighborhoods that included sections on health, housing and education, but according to the residents, the plan lacks quite a bit. What the residents are asking for are respectable homes, away from the contaminated neighborhoods, and that, after they are moved away, that no new families be brought in to the contaminated zones... ever! They don’t want to be placed in small apartments, they want respectable homes that are comparable to the ones they already have, or better. Also, many of the ill residents, especially those who suffer from joint pain (which is the majority) cannot easily climb stairs like they would have to in an apartment building complex. They are asking for better healthcare, free for life, that is accessible and of good quality, with specialists on the illnesses that derive from toxic contamination. Furthermore, they want education for their children in the form of grants, because many of the kids have the desire to study, but because of the contamination many also have learning problems that would never allow them to be accepted into a University, especially within the classist Chilean educational system. They are asking for recognition, attention, help and an answer that they have long deserved… a dignified life, health and education.
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