Peru: Illegal Mining Crackdown

Peruvian police burns down entire illegal gold mine town

Armed police swooped in to Peru’s Amazon basin, burning down an entre town that was home to a vast illegal gold operation, which caused the destruction of a huge swathe of rainforest.

The unprecedented operation, El Telégrafo reports (in Spanish), involved nearly 900 police officers and armed helicopters, which main mission was to eradicate 55 illegal mining settlements in the Peruvian jungle.

The action triggered severe criticism, with many are accusing authorities of an excessive use of public force. But the illegal mining commissioner, Antonio Fernandez, says these operations will continue. “We have to keep doing this until these criminals understand that what they do is illegal,” he told the newspaper, adding that illegal mining usually goes hand in hand with other criminal activities, such as child labour and prostitution.

The illegal activity also carries an enormous ecological price. Mercury is most commonly used to extract gold particles, but illegal miners use it in an inappropriate way, letting the toxic metal contaminate rivers and destroying wildlife’s natural habitats.

The latest crackdown is not, however, the first time Peru tries intimidating illegals with massive operations. In November last year, the government sent 1,000 police to dismantle gold mining camps in the same area, known as La Pampa.

Up until two years ago no one knew the full extent of the damage, until a research team from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC, and Peru’s Ministry of the Environmentused satellite imagery to map the destruction.

The findings shocked millions and finally highlighted the devastating effect the illegal mines have had.

According to official figures, there are more than a half million illegal miners operating Peru and it is estimated that more that 22% of the $10 billion Peru gets from gold exports comes from illegal mining.