Talks are underway in Lima between small-scale miners and Peru’s Ministry of Energy and Mines to arrive at a National Plan for Formalization of Artisanal Mining following a paro, or protest campaign, by miners last month to demand clarification of land and prospecting rights. Clashes with National Police at roadbocks established by thousands of protesting miners near the coastal village of Chala, Arequipa department, April 4-7, left six miners dead. Reports said protesters threw stones and sticks at the police, who responded with tear gas and live fire. Charges have been brought against leaders of the National Federation of Artisanal Miners of Peru (FENAMARPE) and the affiliated Mining Federation of Madre de Dios (FEDEMIN).
At issue is a government decree to eliminate all illegal mining, especially in the rainforest department of Madre de Dios, the center of small-scale mining operations in Peru. FENAMARPE and FEDEMIN are also calling for the overturn of two other decrees passed for Peru’s new free trade agreement with the United States that would turn over some areas now worked by small-scale miners to multinational mining companies.
The some 250,000 small-scale miners in Peru—who operate both illegally and legally—are mainly focused on gold extraction, and the Andean country is the world’s sixth-largest producer of the metal. The informal mining sector “employs double the number of people that formal mining employs,” said José de Echave, director of CooperAcción, a Peruvian organization dedicated to sustainable development and natural resources.
In Madre de Dios, there are at least 2,700 legal mining concessions, with another 1,500 requested. The government, however, has issued a decree halting new mining concessions in the region, citing environmental damage from the use of toxic mercury and other chemicals to extract the gold. Some miners in the region also use dredges and light machinery to extract the ore from riverbeds.
Kathia Romero of the International Labor Organization said that a 2001 study found that there were 200,000 artisanal miners in Peru, most of them working illegally—and some 50,000 of them were children. “This is an economic activity that doesn’t get you rich,” said Romero. “It’s about survival and it involves entire families…and it gets worse when it starts to develop in areas where the state is absent or has a minimal presence.”
The Ministry of Energy and Mines estimates that Madre de Dios produces $1.3 billion of illegally mined gold a year. Gold mining is thought to contribute an estimated 40% of the region’s economy. (CNR, April 26; Latinamerica Press, April 24; CNR, April 12; HRW, April 6)