Madre de Dios
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)
On Dec. 9, informal gold-miners in Peru's southern rainforest region of Madre de Dios suspended a paro or civil strike they had launched more than two weeks earlier. Leaders of the Alliance of Federations said they would call off the strike as talks were underway with a team from Peru's cabinet, the Council of Ministers, that arrived in the remote region that day. Since Nov. 23, regional capital Puerto Maldonado had been paralyzed by protesters demanding the national government drop its new plan to crack down on illegal mining and logging operations. Specifically, they sought the overturn of Supreme Decree 013-2015—which would supervise and control the sale of chemicals that can be used for illegal mining—and Supreme Decree 1220, a measure that seeks to fight against illegal logging. Talks are to center around establishing a "Table for Sustainable Development" in the region, coordinating national policy with popular organizations.
In late July, Peru's Ministry of Culture announced a "Care Plan" for a band of Mashco Piro indigenous people believed to be living in voluntary isolation in a remote area of Madre de Dios region in the southern Amazon basin. Ministerial Resolution No. 258-2015-MC stated that the Vice-ministry of Inter-Culturality, through its General Directorate of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, would implement the plan, which emphasized establishing peaceful coexistence between the Mashco Piro and other indigenous communities in the area. The plan was sparked by increasingly frequent sightings of the band and two fatalities in confrontations between band members and communities on the edge of its territory. Encroachments on the band's territory by illegal loggers is believed to be pressuring the group to seek new lands. But government plans to initiative "contact" with the group immediately drew harsh criticism from indigenous rights advocates. "We are extremely worried about this situation and its possible disastrous consequences," said Francisco Estremadoyro, director of Lima-based ProPurús, a nonprofit that seeks to protect the peoples and environment in the area.
Army and National Police forces in Peru sent riverboats to evacuate a remote rainforest village after it was raided by an indigenous band that has long lived in voluntary isolation in southeastern Madre de Dios region. Around 200 men armed with bows and arrows raided the community of Monte Salvado on the Río Piedras near the Brazilian border Dec. 19. The raiders—thought to be members of the Mashco-Piro tribe—took machetes, rope, blankets and food in the attack. There were no injuries reported, although the raiders did fire arrows. After the raid, they retreated back into the forest. But fearing another attack, Monte Salvado residents—themselves of the Yine tribe, a linguistically related group—are seeking refuge in Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital. Some 40 have now been evacuated.
Peru's government has issued an "ultimatum" to small-scale artisanal miners in southern Puno region, saying that if they do not remove their dredges and other equipment from the watersheds of the Ramis and Suches rivers (which both flow into Lake Titicaca), they will be dynamited. The warning was made by Daniel Urresti, high commissioner for Formalization and Interdiction of Mining. "We would be grateful if these people abandon the area and take their machinery with them, because when we arrive we are going to conficate it, and those which weigh 20 or 30 tons and are impossible to confiscate, we will detonate," he told RPP radio. He said the operation is set to begin in December. (Terra, Nov. 6)
Indigenous leaders in Peru's northern Amazonian region of Loreto on Aug. 10 protested that a leak from Pluspetrol's oil operations at the exploitation bloc known as Lot 8X is causing contamination within the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, with which the bloc overlaps. Alfonso López Tejada, president of the Cocoma Association for the Development and Conservation of San Pablo de Tipishca (ACODECOSPAT) said that the reserve is "every day more unprotected against oil spills." (RPP, Aug. 11; El Comercio, Lima, Aug. 10)
A campesino leader in Peru's Cajamarca region, the scene of ongoing protests over mining operations, was assassinated June 26. Carlos Vásquez Becerra, vice president of the Provincial Federation of Rondas Campesinas (peasant self-defense patrols) was found beaten to death in Chiramayo Canyon in his native Santa Cruz province. The day before, he had led a meeting of comuneros in nearby Ninabamba district to plan protests against the operations of La Zanja mining company. The National Unitary Center of Rondas Campesinas of Peru (CUNARC) is demanding an investigation. (Caballero Verde, La Nueva Prensa, Cajamarca, RPP, June 26) One campeisno was killed in protests over La Zanja's local operations in 2004.
Peru's Amazonian organizations AIDESEP, FENAMAD, ORAU and COMARU last week announced plans to sue both the government and oil companies over proposals to expand the huge Camisea gas project into land inhabited by "uncontacted" or isolated tribes. A consortium of companies in charge of the bloc—including Hunt Oil of Texas, Spain's Repsol and Argentina's Pluspetrol—plans to cut hundreds of testing tracks through the forest, detonate thousands of explosive charges, and drill exploratory wells. Some 75% of Block 88 lies inside the Nahua-Nanti Territorial Reserve, created to protect uncontacted and isolated peoples who are extremely vulnerable to disease and development projects on their land.