An illicit shipment of mercury seized in Peru

Peruvian officials have seized 198 kilos of mercury they believe was intended for use in unlicensed gold mining, a reminder of the issues that the government faces in tackling this industry, which some analysts have linked to organized crime.

Agents from the national customs agency Sunat discovered the chemicals in 10 plastic bottles stashed in concealed compartments underneath the seats of a car travelling to Puno through the Tacna region, near the borders with Bolivia and Chile, reported Andina.

The mercury, worth over $21,000, was of foreign origin and was likely destined for use in illegal gold mining in the Madre de Dios region, reported Peru21.

Officials detained five people, including two minors, who were travelling in the car.

InSight Crime Analysis

According to Peru-based firm Macroconsult, the country’s illegal mining exports were worth approximately $1.79 billion in 2011, and illegally mined gold accounted for 22 percent of Peru’s total gold exports. Mercury is used as part of the gold refining process.

Some claim that organized crime is heavily involved in the sector. Last year, security analyst Ruben Vargas claimed there was an "undeniable link" between illegal mining and drug traffickers, who, he said, used the sector to launder their profits. Vargas highlighted the Madre de Dios region and the city of Puno as hot-spots for both the drug trade and illegal mining.

However, there is scant evidence to prove these ties, and the situation is complicated by the fuzzily-defined line between illegal and informal mining. 

In Colombia -- where artisanal miners claim the government does not differentiate between traditional mining without a license and operations controlled by criminal groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and neo-paramilitary gang the Urabeños -- efforts to regulate the sector have proved difficult and controversial.  

The difficulties the Peruvian government will face in tackling this issue were underlined in March last year by mass protests that broke out in the Madre de Dios against a government decree declaring informal mining to be illegal.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions of ...

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

 Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

Well-armed vigilantes in Mexico's Michoacan state have helped authorities dismantle a powerful criminal organization, but now the government may have a more difficult task: keeping Michoacan safe from the vigilantes and rival criminal groups.

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

After the lower house passed the controversial marijuana bill July 31, Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug, and provide a model for countries looking for alternatives to the world’s dominant drug policy paradigm. ...

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

Whether it is sustainable or not, the truce -- which the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 put into place March 2012 -- has changed the conventional thinking about who the gangs are and what is the best way to handle the most difficult law and order ...

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Since the end of El Salvador's civil war, the country's police has become a key player in the underworld. This series of five articles explore the dark ties between criminal organizations and the government's foremost crime fighting institution.

Juarez after the War

Juarez after the War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality. InSight Crime looks at the role politicians, police, and for-hire street gangs played in the fighting -- asking who ...