Peru launched its first satellite into space this month, to monitor illegal mining, logging and other extractive activities in the country's vast stretch of the Amazon rainforest. The Peru SAT-1, developed with French aid and the most sophisticated in Latin America, was launched Sept. 15 from Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana and monitored from the Satellite Images National Operations Center (CNOIS) in Pucusana, south of Lima. The satellite bears the logo of Peru's space agency, CONIDA, with the words "Kausachun Peru" (Viva Peru in Quechua). (Peru This Week, Nature, Sept. 15)
A deputy interior minister in Bolivia's government was abducted and killed by striking miners Aug. 25 in a conflict over formalization of mineral claims on the Altiplano. Rodolfo Illanes had gone to Panduro , a town some 80 miles south of La Paz, to open a dialogue with the miners, who had been blockading a highway for the past three days. The protest had turned violent, with two miners killed by riot police. Interior Minister Carlos Romero said "all indications" were that Illanes had been murdered in a "cowardly and brutal" attack. Defense Minister Reymi Ferreira broke down on television as he described how Illanes, appointed to his post in March, had apparently been "beaten and tortured to death." The National Federation of Mining Cooperatives (FENCOMIN), which called the strike, has not yet issued a statement.
An unprecedented ruling of Colombia's Constitutional Court last year protecting alpine wetlands or páramos from mining operations is apparently going unenforced. Coal-mining continues in the Páramo de Pisba, a supposed protected area in Boyacá department, according to Anastasio Cruz of the Network of Rural Waterworks (Red de Acueductos Rurales), who said that the mining operations over the past 12 years have left over 20 local sources dry. The operations are carried out by companies operating on the margins of the law, which he said are also seeking to re-activate an old iron mine in the area. Cruz made his statement to the press ahead of a National Meeting of Páramo Defenders held in Tasco, Boyacá, last moth. (Contagio Radio, Aug. 5)
A New York Times reporter followed a a force of Peruvian marines and rangers in a raid against illegal gold-miners in the Tambopata Nature Reserve, in the country's southern Amazon. Upon finding mining camps along the Río Malinowski, troops slashed bags of rice and plastic barrels of drinking water before setting everything on fire. But, massively outnumbered by perhaps 10,000 illegal miners in the area, they seem to be fighting a losing battle. They soon ran out of dynamite and resorted to a less sophisticated tactic: using mallets to smash the truck engines that miners use to power their derricks.
Amid moves toward peace in Colombia, the goad of the war—the country's lucrative cocaine trade—clearly remains robust. In an international operation announced June 30, Colombian police joined with US and Italian authorities to confiscate a whopping 11 tons of cocaine in refrigerated containers ostensibly shipping tropical fruits to Europe. The stuff was mostly seized in Colombia, but was bound for the US and Europe. Of the 33 arrested in the operation, 22 were popped in Colombia and the rest in Italy. (El Tiempo, June 30)
As Venezuela lurches deeper into political crisis, President Nicolas Maduro has announced a new phase in the government's controversial "Operation Liberate the People" security program, pledging to cleanse the country of gang-related crime. Thousands of elite military troops have been deployed across Caracas, with five new "permanent" bases and over 130 checkpoints established in the city. Perhaps not coincidentally, this comes as Maduro has declared a "state of emergency" throughout the country in response to a supposed US-backed conspiracy against him by the political opposition, earning rebukes from Amnesty International, which called the declaration "alarming."
Peru's President Ollanta Humala declared a 60-day state of emergency in the rainforest region of Madre de Dios in response to reports of mercury poisoning by outlaw gold-mining operations. According to country's Environment Ministry, as many as 50,000 people or 41% of the population of Madre de Dios, have been exposed to mercury contamination. The government plans to send hospital ships and loads of untainted fish to the area, where mercury has contaminated local waterways. Illegal gold production has increased five-fold in Peru since 2012, and it is estimated to provide 100,000 direct jobs in the country, 40% of which are in Madre de Dios. Peru is the world's sixth largest gold producer, but an estimated 20% of its annual output is of unknown origin. (Mining.com, La República, May 24)
Afro-Colombian protesters who were demonstrating on the Pan-American Highway in southern Cauca department to oppose illegal mining on their lands were violently dispersed by riot police April 27. The feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD, used tear-gas and rubber bullets to clear the roadway, leaving several injured, including women, children and elders. Some 2,000 people from over 40 communities in north Cauca took part in the action to protest that "Afro-descendant territories continue to be under threat from multinational mineral companies and illegal mining." (Las 2 Orillas, ¡Pacifista!, April 27)