Madre de Dios
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's creation of Yaguas National Park—covering nearly 870,000 hectares of rainforest along the remote border with Colombia—is being hailed as a critical advance for protection of global biodiversity. The territory in the Putumayo river basin is roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park, but with more than 10 times the diversity of flora and fauna—home to more than 3,000 plant species, 160 species of mammals (including manatees and the Amazonian river dolphin), 500 species of birds and some 550 fish species representing a full two-thirds of Peru's freshwater fish diversity. Some park also covers some 30 indigenous communities of the Tikuna, Kichwa, Ocaina, Mürui, Bora, and Yagua peoples. (NYT, Feb. 14; The Manual, Feb. 6; Mongabay, Jan. 11)
Peru's government has mobilized some 2,000 National Police troops to the buffer zone of Tambopata National Reserve in the Madre de Dios region to evict illegal gold-miners operating in the zone. Authorities say over 80 camps have been evicted since the operation began July 3, and millions of dollars worth of equipment destroyed. Hundreds were briefly detained in the operaiion, dubbed "Mercury I," and 12 formally charged with illegal miniig and other crimes. Outlaw miners have for years been encroaching on the remote reserve, clearing rainforest and polluting waterways with mercury. The Interior Ministry's Vice-Minister for Internal Order Rubén Vargas, on the scene in Madre de Dios, told reporters: "Illegal mines have operated here for many years and the results, as you can see, are Dantesque. This is an activity that's equally or even more lucrative than drug trafficking."
Peru's prosecutor general Pablo Sánchez announced Feb. 7 that he is seeking the arrest of former president Alejandro Toledo on charges of laundering assets and influence trafficking. Prosecutors opened a formal investigation this week into allegations that Toledo took $20 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, with investigators raiding his home in Lima on Feb 4 and carting off boxes full of documents. Sánchez is now asking a judge to approve 10 months of "preventative detention" for Toledo while the case is under investigation. Toledo is currently believed to be in Paris, where he arrived for an OECD conference last week, and Sánchez argues that he poses a flight risk. Toledo is said to have received the money, laundered through offshore accounts, in exchange for giving the firm approval to complete a highway connecting Brazil with the Peruvian coast in 2006.
Gold mining in Peru has razed almost 62,500 hectares of rainforest —an area over ten times the size of Manhattan—between October 2012 and October 2016, according to a new report by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP). While the tendrils of gold mining are spreading across the country, the region of Madre de Dios still accounts for the vast majority of mining-related deforestation to date, MAAP researchers write.
The Central of Indigenous Communities of Tacana II Rio Madre de Dios (CITRMD), representing the Tacana people of Pando department in the Bolivian Amazon has issued a letter to the ministries of Justice and Environment requesting urgent government intervention to protect "uncontacted" indigenous peoples threatened by oil operations. The CITRMD said "footprints and broken branches" among other evidence were found within the operations area of BGP, a subsidiary of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). September letters by BGP to Bolivia's state oil company YPFB, to which it is contracted, noting this evidence, as well as one physical encounters with "originarios." CITRMD is urging BGP and the government to respect "their wish not to be contacted." (The Guardian, Oct. 27)
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.
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)