The Peruvian government’s crackdown on illegal mining, which some link to organized crime, has triggered massive protests in the southeast town of Puerto Maldonado.
The town of Puerto Maldonado is the capital of Madre de Dios, an Amazon region which borders Brazil and Bolivia. The region is one of the centers of gold mining in Peru, producing a fifth of the country’s gold. The government said that there are some 18,000 people involved in mining there, some 97 percent of which are not registered, while the local Chamber of Commerce head said that informal mining makes up half of all economic activity in the area.
Miners in the region began an indefinite strike on March 5, to protest against a government decree to make informal mining a crime. Riots broke out Wednesday after negotiations collapsed, and three people were killed by gunfire in the police response.
The government has promised to set up a fund to help local miners become part of the formal mining industry.
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In neighboring Colombia, informal gold mining is largely dominated by illegal armed groups, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) controlling much of the business in the northern Antioquia province. Neo-paramilitary groups (known as BACRIMs) such as the Urabeños and the Paisas are also involved, while there have been reports of the Aguilas Negras intimidating miners elsewhere in the country.
Ecuador has also carried out operations to shut down illegal gold mining close to the border with Colombia, while, as InSight Crime has reported, the FARC could be poised to become major players in mining coltan, a metallic ore, in Venezuela’s border regions.
There is not evidence of informal gold mining in Peru being run by criminal organizations in the same way, although security analyst Ruben Vargas told Andina this week that there was an “undeniable link” between illegal mining and drug trafficking in the country, and that traffickers used the business to launder their profits.
However, the mining boom in the area does create a fertile environment for organized crime. In October, police rescued some 200 women and girls from brothels in Madre de Dios, who they said had been trafficked there from other parts of the country. As Vargas pointed out, Madre de Dios is a key region for trafficking drugs into Peru and Brazil.