Peru’s Illegal Miners Trafficking Gold to Bolivia

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In response to new measures meant to fight illegal mining in Peru, smugglers are reportedly moving illegally mined gold into neighboring Bolivia, highlighting the shortcomings of Peru’s policies. 

According to Reuters, smugglers are moving illegal gold produced in Peru across Lake Titicaca into Bolivia, then selling the product on for exportation. Two regions near Lake Titicaca in southern Peru — Madre de Dios and Puno — are major gold producing areas. 

One smuggler interviewed by Reuters said that traffickers also used light aircraft to move up to 200 kilos of gold at a time into Bolivia.

As evidence of the flow of contraband gold, Reuters reported that Bolivia officially registered 24 tons in gold exports between January and August this year, but produced six times less than this during nearly the same period. 

Peruvian Interior Minister Daniel Urresti also recently acknowledged that gold traffickers are using numerous couriers to move small loads into Bolivia. According to Urresti, this is partly in response to improved technology provided to Peru’s customs offices, allowing them to better detect and block illegal gold shipments. 

According to Urresti, authorities are already setting up controls along the Bolivian border to address the problem.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Reuters report indicates that in the face of Peru’s efforts to halt the destructive $3 billion illegal gold trade, illegal miners have merely developed new strategies to skirt controls. This raises questions about the government’s narrative that hardline measures are drastically reducing illegal mining operations. 

These measures have included blowing up machinery, conducting joint operations with Colombian authorities, placing restrictions on fuel sales in mining regions, and implementing controls in airports.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Gold

Bolivia’s geographic location, institutional weaknesses, and pre-existing ties to Peru criminal groups makes it an ideal receptor of Peruvian gold. An air bridge between the two countries already sees some 20 tons of cocaine trafficked from Peru to Bolivia by plane each month, while Lake Titicaca is the primary water route used to move cocaine into Bolivia. Bolivian and Peruvian authorities recently agreed to jointly combat drug trafficking along this southern border, but Bolivian officials have said it is impossible to properly monitor what crosses the lake. 

Peru’s struggle against illegal gold mining is further complicated by the fact that 60 of the country’s 120 legal exporters are thought to collaborate with the illegal mining industry.  

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