Peru’s President allegedly financed campaign with illegal mining funds

Peru’s President allegedly financed his campaign with illegal mining funds

Peru's President Ollanta Humala and his wife, Nadine Heredia.

Former Peruvian President Alan Garcia and several local media outlets are pointing their fingers to the country’s current leader, Ollanta Humala, saying his party received “significant” support from informal miners to fund his 2011 campaign.

According to El Comercio (in Spanish), Humala accepted over $49,000 from a union representing informal miners. The newspaper also publishes a photograph, allegedly taken in 2010, that shows the Peruvian President with Theodule Medina, former head of the National Federation of Artisanal Miners of Peru (Fenamarpe), and Susana Vilca Achata, former congressman, ex-Deputy Minister of Mines and current president of the Geological, Mining and Metallurgical (Ingemmet).

The photo also includes a person named Valdivia, general secretary of the Nationalist Party in the gold-rich Madre de Dios, and Victor Chanduvi, former Fenamarpe vice president, as well as political leader in Madre de Dios. The region accounts for 11% of Peru’s gold output, and is the focus of the ongoing government campaign to eliminate illegal mining.

"If their mining activities were illegal and informal as Humala claims now, then [he] accepted illegal money, black money," Garcia told El Comercio.

In an interview with Onda Azul radio (in Spanish), Chanduvi said the artisanal miners union gave Humala 17kg of gold to help him finance his campaign. He added they have receipts signed by Humala’s advisers, which they’ll submit to forensic document examination services in order to prove their truthfulness.

A spokesman for the government said they refuse to accept the accusations, adding authorities “will not accept any kind of intimidation,” as neither the Nationalist Party not the President ever received illegal money, he told La Republica (in Spanish).

Betrayed or Opportunistic?

Some analysts say the allegations against Humala and his party are the result of the government relentless efforts to tighten the screws on illegal mining, which made informal miners feel betrayed, had they funded part of the president campaign.

Others believe the union ex-leaders are just being opportunistic, as they hope to make the government reverse a 2012 legislation that gave small-scale mine operators two years to sign up for a six-step formalization process.

The operators had to apply for certificates from five government entities by April 19, covering areas such as water, exploration, processing minerals and reforestation, but a month before the deadline, thousands of unlicensed gold miners staged demonstrations in Peru’s capital and various regions against the ruling. And about 40,000 of roughly 110,000 illegal miners operating in the country, plainly ignored the deadline.

Despite the efforts, illegal gold production in the South American nation has increased fivefold in the last six years and it is estimated to provide 100,000 direct jobs in the country, 40% of which are in the Madre de Dios region.

The situation is mirrored in dozens of the countries, where gold is similarly mined and where the desperately poor often end up working in risky conditions.

Peru’s President allegedly financed his campaign with illegal mining fundsAccording to Peru’s ministry of environment, the use of mercury and other toxic elements by illegal gold miners has already destroyed 18,000 hectares of the Amazon rainforest.

Experts say the amount of toxics generated by the use of large amounts of mercury to process gold have reached lethal levels. A recent study found that close to 80% of residents in the capital of the gold-rich Madre de Dios region have high levels of mercury in their bodies as a result of fish consumption.

More recently, the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project revealed the levels of mercury in water resources are way higher than expected: close to five times higher than the limit considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO), and double the safe mark in the country’s urban areas.

Peru is the world's sixth largest gold producer, but an estimated 20% of its annual production is of unknown origin.

Image screenshot via Vimeo.