Peru: 'Operation Mercury' militarizes Amazon
Peru's central government is pouring troops into the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in an all-out effort against thousands of illegal gold-miners operating in remote areas. Under "Operation Mercury"—named for the mercury poisoning caused to local waters by the mining—three High-Mobility Temporary Mixed Bases, manned by military and National Police personnel, are to be established in the area of La Pampa, within the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve. Cabinet officials were flown into the remote area March 5 to inaugurate the first base, dubbed "Alpha." On hand were Defense Minister José Huerta, Interior Minister Carlos Morán and Environment Minister Fabiola Muñoz. Each base is to have 100 soldiers, 50 police agents and a public prosecutor. In the first phase of the operation, launched last month, authoritiies "rescued" 51 people from the mining camps, detained 80, and confiscated millions of dollars in prperty.
Peru is the top gold producer in Latin America and the sixth worldwide, but experts estimate that up to 25% of annual gold production in the country comes from illegal mining. The Andean Amazon Monitoring Project estimates that gold mining has deforested more than 18,000 hectares of Madre de Dios in recent years. (Peru21, Gestión)