Peru steps up crackdown on illegal mining

Peru’s battle against illegal mining just got tighter as the government announced it will increase control over small-scale processing plants, frequently used by illicit miners to cover up their activities.

The country’s Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, told Agencia Andina (in Spanish) the main problem is that those plants are under the jurisdiction of regional governments, which usually don’t have enough resources to exercise strict control over them.

Unregulated mineral extraction in Peru has become an industry of its own. This forced the government to pass last year decrees.

Initially the regulations targeted unlawful activities in the Amazon, where more than 20 tonnes of gold are mined every year. The move sparked violent protests, with people killed and numerous buildings burnt.

In response to the violence, the administration offered a means for certain illegal operations to claim that they were “informal” with a desire to “formalize” in the near future.

Minister of Energy and Mines, Jorge Merino, justified the measure saying Peru had reached a point of "no return" in the fight against illegal mining. He added his government aimed to end this practice that “harms people’s health, the environment and the economy.”

"Informal mining is a problem that has social connotations. There are about 100,000 informal miners in Peru and another 400,000 compatriots who depend on this activity. We must first understand the problem [and then find a] solution, which it is not easy,” he said in an official statement (in Spanish).

To date about 30,000 small-scale miners have become “formalized” in Peru, with at least another 37,000 committed to go through the process before the April 2014 deadline, said Pulgar-Vidal.

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Illegal gold mining in the South American nation has increased fivefold in the last six years and is estimated to provide 100,000 direct jobs in the country.

From the Amazon it has expanded into other mineral-rich areas, such as Apurimac, where authorities estimate that about 10 tonnes of copper are extracted illegally every day in and around Glencore Xstrata’s Las Bambas copper concession.

Image: Random control of small-scale miners in Peru, Flickr Creative Commons