Some organized crime groups use revenue from illegal mining to fund other illegal enterprises, such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, and money laundering. Additionally, the region’s water, river beds, and fish face substantial negative impacts from the operations. The highly toxic mercury that is essential to illegal mining extraction methods severely damages the environment, as do the water pumps, dredgers, wheel loaders, dump trucks and other equipment involved in the effort; that’s what the Ministry of the Environment found in a study at Madre de Dios.
In fact, illegal mining in Peru is not an isolated offense that only benefits small-scale miners. A clan that acts as if it were a consortium runs illegal gold mining in the Department of Madre de Dios, said the then-minister of Internal Affairs and the High Commissioner for Mining, Daniel Urresti, in July 2014. Gregoria Casas, 71 years old, is allegedly the leader of the clan, which owns 42,000 hectares of land that they lease as franchises to illegal gold miners.
In 2013, the Ministry of the Environment filed a criminal complaint on this family before the Prosecutor’s Office for alleged money laundering, and imposed economic penalties on the mining Company directed by Gregoria Casas for failure to obtain the appropriate environmental certificates. The Casas’ company has also been barred from participating in the mining formalization process begun by the government in 2013, and many of the camps operated by the clan have been destroyed in interdiction operations that have been carried out over the past year.
The national strategy for the interdiction of illegal mining operations is led by the High Commissioner for the Formalization of Mining, Interdiction of Illegal Mining, and Environmental Remediation (ACAFMIRA), a government entity under the Office of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers. One of its primary objectives is to root out illegal miners who attempt to extract gold primarily from rivers; in Peru all mining activities in rivers and other waterways are illegal. The Criminal Code of Peru stipulates that illegal mining offenses are punishable by imprisonment for four to eight years.
Peru’s Navy and National Police are responsible for controlling, investigating and interdicting illegal mining activities. This is a collaborative effort; the Navy and National Police also coordinate their work with other government authorities, such as the National Bureau of Government Protected Natural Areas (SERNANP), the Prosecutor’s Offices, the Regional Directorate of Energy and Mines, and the Executive Directorate of Tourism and the Environment.
Success mount against illegal mining
On April 24 and 25, Naval Service Members with the Fluvial Captaincy of Maldonado Port led two of the operations on the Madre de Dios and Malinowski rivers in the Amazonian department of Madre de Dios. They helped destroy six raft-born mining platforms known as tracas and carrancheras , nine engines, eight motorized water pumps, and six suction pumps, as well as metallic accessories, hoses, and fuel.
And in another operation on April 16, security forces arrested four illegal mining suspects at the El Sira Reservation, in the province of Puerto Inca, department of Huánuco. Navy personnel and National Police agents destroyed 21 campsites and machinery used to extract gold from the Pachitea, Negro, and Yuyapichis rivers. The security forces destroyed 15 dredgers, 20 suction pumps, 22 electrical generators, and 1,350 gallons of fuel, in addition to beams, hoses, and other materials.
“So far this year, four interdiction operations have been performed, two of them in the Amazon region,” said the High Commissioner for Mining, Antonio Fernández Jerí, who supervised the operation in El Sira. “You cannot put a price on conserving the environment, so these interdictions are being carried out in protected natural areas, the headwaters of water basins, and archaeological zones.”
The interdiction conducted on the reservation confirms that illegal miners no longer respect conservation areas protected by the government, such as El Sira, which is home to 22,000 residents in 69 indigenous river communities, including the Asháninka, Yánesha, Cocama-Cocamilla, and Shipibo-Conibo ethnic groups. The reservation covers 616,000 hectares and straddles the Amazonian departments of Ucayali, Huánuco, and Pasco.
Interdictions aim to protect water
Such efforts are a key component of the government’s strategy to fight illegal mining and protect the environment. For example, in 2014, authorities performed 36 interdictions – seizing and destroying equipment and material valued at approximately 100 million soles ($33.3 million).
“Illegal gold mining is occurring in 11 departments in Peru, four of them in the Amazon basin (Loreto, Huánuco, Madre de Dios, and Amazonas),” Fernández Jerí said. “The interdiction operations attempt to prevent contamination of still waters to protect the health of the residents of the indigenous river communities, especially the most remote and the pre-contact communities, who are the most vulnerable.”
Meanwhile, the government of Peru is also confronting illegal mining by formalizing mining activities.
“This process aims to formalize the activities of small and artisanal miners by granting them certificates when they initiate or reinitiate exploration, operation, and realization of profits from mines, so long as they have complied with a series of administrative and environmental requirements. This process is occurring parallel to the interdictions.”