After 20 years of rainforest destruction, police and army took forceful action this week against illegal gold miners.
Around a thousand police and soldiers were ordered to destroy the equipment of illegal gold miners working in the rainforest of the southeastern Peruvian Amazon.
Seven miner’s boats were sunk and thirteen more confiscated in the state of Madre de Dios in an action never before seen in Peru, a nation which created a Ministry of Environment less than three years ago.
Dr. Antonio Brack, the Minister of Environment visited the illegal mining area last year and vowed to do something about the devastation being wreaked over the rainforest.
Inland from the main rivers a vast gravel pit replaces what was primary rainforest just 20 years ago and, all along the main rivers,itinerant miners operate from boats and rafts with dredging machinery and diesel powered water pumps.
As well as destroying what many claim to be some of the most biodiverse rainforest in the Amazon, the illicit mining is linked to organised crime and causes other problems like indentured labour, under-age prostitution, money laundering and drug smuggling.
For every gram of gold extracted from the river, 3 grams of highly toxic Mercury are used. This liquid metal makes its way into the rivers, polluting them locally and downstream into the main Amazon watershed. According to Dr. Brack, fish in the area have mercury levels three times higher than the levels approved by the World Health Organisation and estimates are as high as 40 tons a year for the amount released into the air and rivers of Madre de Dios.
The police aim to destroy up to two hundred dredgers over the length of its present operation. No violence has been reported, but the President of the Madre de Dios Regional Government, Luis Aguirre Pastor, expressed unhappiness with the operation and commented that: “past experience tells me that when there is this type of intervention people will rise up.”