Illegal mining is threatening and eating away at the Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja Sonene National Park, located in the Madre de Dios department of Peru, where environmental criminals are sowing terror with extortion, robbery, and death threats, according to an investigation by environmental journalism platform Mongabay.
“In almost all of the Peruvian Amazon, genocides are committed against native populations and colonists [people from the cities who come to work]; above all because of the indiscriminate use of mercury to process gold. Deforestation in the area is almost uncontrollable,” Peruvian security and narcotrafficking expert Pedro Yaranga told Diálogo on October 22. “One of the areas of greatest concern is the border between Peru and Bolivia. It’s a 570-kilometer area from Puerto Desaguadero, in Puno, to Puerto Maldonado, in Madre de Dios, where illegal mining and narcotrafficking proliferate.”
Conditions in these protected areas, especially in the creek of the Palma Real native community, near the border between Peru and Bolivia, are conducive to illegal mining operation and expansion, Mongabay reported. Gold mined in Peru is sent across the border to be sold in illegal markets.
“There are miners in this creek who come from La Pampa — the focus of major mining in Madre de Dios — and who are in the area with their machinery to extract gold,” Colonel Luis Enrique Guillén Polo, director of the Environmental Directorate of the Peruvian National Police (PNP), told Mongabay. “They carry out illegal mining activities using rafts and dredges in the Tambopata River […] for gold extraction.”
Illegal mining in Peru has a close connection to organized crime, a report from the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Prevent Project, which works with the Peruvian government to prevent and combat environmental crimes, indicated.
“Illegal and informal mining is usually associated with other crimes such as money laundering; trafficking of chemical precursors, fuels, and equipment meant for illegal mining; human trafficking for labor and sexual exploitation; arms and drug trafficking,” the report says.
Peru’s security forces have been stepping up efforts to combat criminal groups that prey on one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. For example, on October 4, the PNP dismantled a mining camp in the San Jacinto de Aguajal sector, Tambopata municipality, Madre de Dios department.
“The mafias are armed with machine guns and long-range weapons. Small armed groups appear and begin to intimidate the people they control, including native communities,” Yaranga said. “They also offer economic compensation to recruit the natives, because they know where to find good gold. During extraction, these same natives become vigilantes who warn them when operations are being carried out so that the mafias go out to attack the armed forces or flee the area.”
In view of the situation, on October 5, the Ombudsman of Peru Eliana Revollar, asked the Council of Ministers to consider reinstating the state of emergency in Madre de Dios, to allow for the Police with the support of the Armed Forces to restore and guarantee public order and citizen security.
“It will be recalled that on August 25, illegal miners set fire to the entrance of a police military installation in the sector of La Pampa, one day after an interdiction operation on the Inter-Oceanic Highway, leaving one dead and 14 injured. Our institution recorded these events as a socio-environmental conflict in crisis,” Revollar said.
According to data from the Peruvian Ministry of Environment, the Madre de Dios region lost 23,142 hectares of forest in 2021, a number similar to 2020, while the total loss in the Amazon forest was 137,976 hectares, or 32 percent less than in 2020, France 24 news network reported on August 26.
Peru’s Interior Ministry reports a higher incidence of human trafficking where illegal mining has spread, such as the Madre de Dios and Puno departments, close to the border with Bolivia. Near illegal mining camps there are bars where women are trafficked, reported Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día.
As part of efforts to halt criminal groups that are devastating the Peruvian Amazon, the USAID Prevent Project aims to contribute to the development of a national framework to prevent and combat environmental crimes, increase the use of technology and innovation in reducing mercury and other harmful practices, and strengthen the mining formalization process through inclusion of social and environmental safeguards, among others.