Peru steps up its efforts to stop illegal mining

April 29, 2014

An estimated $20 million worth of heavy equipment was destroyed by Peruvian military troops and police during a surprise raid of illegal gold mining operations in the southeastern jungle region of Madre de Dios, Peru.

A nationwide ban on illegal mining went into effect on April 19. It has been estimated that illegal mining accounts for about 20 percent of Peru’s gold exports. 

On April 29 the government stepped up its efforts and destroyed the equipment with dynamite.

Security forces accompanied by prosecutors blew up backhoes, generators and water pumps in the Huepetuhe district, a mining boomtown dating back to the 1980s that includes two entire streets of brothels and many more of machine shops.

The Associated Press  reported that there were no reports of injuries. Police and soldiers cleared out adjoining camps first.

Madre de Dios state has an estimated 40,000 illegal miners, most centered near the commercially vital Interoceanic Highway that links the Pacific Ocean with Brazil.

They use tons of mercury to bind the gold flecks they dig up, and have ravaged forests and poisoned rivers in a biodiverse region that is also home to tribes living in voluntary isolation.

The equipment destroyed was on the outskirts of town or at a nearby river. It included 15 backhoes, 45 big motors used to suck water from rivers and nine dredges, Urresti said. All mining in rivers is illegal in Peru.

Before the deadline, the government began sharply reducing gasoline supplies to Madre de Dios, idling mining machinery. Its multi-pronged approach to snuffing out illegal mining has included confiscating illegal gold at domestic airports and dynamiting illegal gold refineries in the coastal cities of Chala and Nazca.

Miners have resisted, clashing with police while intermittently blocking traffic on the Interoceanic Highway in recent weeks. One miner was killed and more than 50 people hurt by shotgun and gunfire during those confrontations.

The government has no plans to forcibly remove miners from the shantytowns where they live.

He said the government sympathizes with the miners, and is more interested in the businesspeople behind the illegal mining. The government has vowed to identify and prosecute them.

"The people who are illegal are the 50 people who are financing all this, not the day laborers who do all the hard work under dangerous conditions and are poisoned with mercury," he said.

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