The Americas 61.2 (2004) 347-348
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The negative consequences of the exploitation of natural resources by powerful multinational corporations and the struggles of local peoples to assert some control over their communities and lives have long been major themes in Latin American studies. This film brings both of these themes vividly to life. It documents the efforts [End Page 347] of the residents of Choropampa, Ecuador to seek redress from the Newmont Mining Corporation and the Ecuadorian government in the aftermath of a major mercury spill in their community. Using videotape and archival footage from other sources, the film focuses on a more than two-year battle of the people of Choropampa as they struggle to organize, seek compensation and health care, and face their own internal divisions over how best to proceed with their demands.
Newmont, based in Denver, Colorado, is one of the largest gold mining companies in the world. They control the Yanacocha gold mine through a Peruvian subsidiary and funding from the World Bank. On June 2nd, 2000, one of their trucks spilled more than 150 kilograms of liquid mercury (used in the refining process) over a 25-mile long area in the small town of Choropampa. In one respect, the film depicts the now standard methods of large corporations as they respond to crises and bad publicity. The corporation engages in an ongoing process of donations, discussions, debates, lawsuits, and confrontations with the community. The filmmakers estimate that nearly 1,000 people were affected by the spill, developing a variety of health problems. Much of the film follows the discussions within the community of how best to pursue compensation.
Revelations in Peru about high-level corruption under President Fujimori led to the release of audio and videotapes clearly showing efforts by the government to support Newmont. Perhaps the most sobering and pedagogically useful sections of the film trace the internal divisions within the community. The mining company does undertake cleanup efforts and infrastructural improvements in Choropampa, but they are meager and slipshod. At the same time, some residents choose to accept jobs or compensation from the company. As the community divides, the more radical sectors unite behind a newly elected young mayor; they block the highway through the town to force the government and the company to the bargaining table. Some of the most powerful scenes show people blocking the road, negotiating and fighting back against the police, and the spontaneity and fragility of their coalition at a moment of truth. At the close of the film in November 2002, we see how difficult it has been for a community to unify and fight both a corrupt government and a powerful multinational corporation. This is not a Hollywood film with a happy ending. Largely in Spanish with English subtitles, this is a quiet and thoughtful film that would be very useful in classes that discuss grassroots organizing, globalization, and environmental issues in contemporary Latin America.
Marshall C. Eakin