In the early morning hours of June 11, on the Madres de Dios River of the department of the same name in the Peruvian Amazon, the Peruvian Navy’s Captaincy of Puerto Maldonado, with the support of the National Police and the Office of the Attorney General, dealt a significant blow to illegal mining. The destruction of 12 dredges, seven diesel engines, four suction pumps, and 135 gallons of crude oil were among the operation’s results.
Only two days earlier, units of the same captaincy launched an operation against illegal mining in the Malinowski River, in Madre de Dios department. With information provided by informants and military intelligence, navy personnel destroyed a logistics camp, six dredges, four diesel engines, and four suction pumps, among other equipment.
According to the Navy, illegal mining operations have increased in the rivers of the Peruvian Amazon since authorities launched Operation Mercury in February 2019, in Madre de Dios department. Executed by the Police with the support of the Army, the operation aims to identify, intervene, and control illegal mining on the ground.
“With this operation [Mercury], illegal mining in the pampa has been mainly controlled, but it’s now proliferating in other areas, especially rivers,” Peruvian Navy Lieutenant Commander Lister Samaniego Armas, Puerto Maldonado port captain, told Diálogo.
According to a 2019 study by the Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network (RAISG, in Spanish) — a consortium of civil organizations from Amazon countries — in Peru, illegal mining areas are located in Madre de Dios. RAISG indicates that this Amazon region has suffered the most degradation due to gold mining.
In January 2020, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), an international nongovernmental organization that monitors deforestation in the Amazon, estimates that the southern area of the Peruvian Amazon may have lost about 2,150 hectares of forest since 2017. However, MAAP recognizes Operation Mercury’s achievements and says it has documented a significant reduction in mining deforestation in the pampa since it began.
“I’ve been here since last year , and we’ve tried to curb this resurgence in the rivers, with support from the Army and Police with their helicopters,” Lt. Cmdr. Samaniego said.
In addition to having Army aircraft available, since early 2020 the port authorities have gliders, light fiberglass boats that can sail long distances in short periods of time. The vessels have been essential in fighting illegal mining.
“We were able to identify [illegal mining operations] from the helicopters, but due to the local geography, we couldn’t find a place to land. With gliders, we can reach these areas, leave [the gliders] on the water, and get out to conduct interdictions. This is why operations have increased in remote areas,” Lt. Cmdr. Samaniego said.
So far in 2020, the Captaincy of Puerto Maldonado has carried out 46 interdictions against illegal mining in the Madre de Dios region, resulting in the destruction of 218 dredges, 143 engines, 121 suction pumps, 84 motor pumps, and 5,336 gallons of fuel, the institution reported.