The Amazon, which occupies a large part of Peru’s territory, is home to the country’s greatest diversity of flora and fauna, but its intricate geography also makes it the ideal setting for illegal mining carried out by transnational criminal organizations, and destroying hundreds of hectares of virgin land every day.
Peruvian authorities have not let their guard down to pursue this crime and are carrying out seizures and arrests with the support of the Specialized Environmental Prosecutor’s Office (FEMA), the Environmental Directorate of the National Police, and the Armed Forces. A 2012 legislative decree ordered nationwide interdiction actions against this scourge.
“Our objective is to protect the natural areas located in the department of Madre de Dios, as well as to recover areas already affected by illegal mining,” Peruvian Army General Manuel Paz Ramos, commander of the 6th Special Forces Brigade in Madre de Dios, told Diálogo on July 23. “In 2023, we continue to develop interdiction actions efficiently. However, the problem persists due to the large extension of land in these areas.”
In the last two years, illegal gold mining operations have destroyed 18,421 hectares of forest in this region, according to a study by the Andean Amazon Monitoring Project, while 76 percent corresponds to the area known as the mining corridor in that department.
In 2018, the Peruvian government approved the Mercury Plan to develop joint multisectoral operations permanently in Madre de Dios, the region most affected by this crime. Despite the progress made in reducing deforestation and generating productive development as sustainable alternatives, authorities only targeted the area of La Pampa, in Madre de Dios, making it necessary to improve the territorial approach as illegal mining expanded to other areas.
In 2021, the government launched the Restoration Plan, which aims to eradicate and prevent the displacement of illegal mining in Madre de Dios, but also in the districts of Camanti, province of Quispicanchi, in Cusco; and Ayapata, province of Carabaya, in Puno. Law enforcement efforts are focused on the framework of this plan.
Without lowering the guard
“So far in 2023, in the Madre de Dios region alone, authorities carried out 72 interdictions together with the Specialized Prosecutor’s Office, where equipment and machinery valued at more than $20 million were seized and destroyed,” Gen. Paz said. Authorities estimated that the cost of reforesting the devastated land will be around $60 million.
In addition to the fight against illegal mining, the Restoration Plan contemplates an environmental approach with the recovery of affected areas. However, this is another pending issue for the Peruvian State.
“The Armed Forces should be the ones in charge of executing reforestation actions, in coordination with the sectors and institutions [technical and specialized personnel] in charge of ensuring environmental conservation,” Gen. Paz concluded. “The experience in this first formal decade of fighting illegal mining is the main argument to be able to take greater control in this difficult scenario.”