Peru raids biggest illegal mining zone to stem Amazon gold rush

Peru moved to shut down a major illegal gold mine hub deep in the Amazon after years of expansion destroyed pristine rain forest and polluted rivers with mercury.

The government deployed 1,500 agents from the police and armed forces to La Pampa in the Madre de Dios region of southeast Peru on Tuesday to begin closing down mine operations. The crackdown will last two weeks and aims to eradicate mining from the area permanently, as well as other activities such as drug- and human-trafficking, Energy & Mines Minister Francisco Ismodes said in an emailed statement.

For decades an area of small-scale alluvial gold mining, La Pampa expanded rapidly in recent years to become the country’s biggest source of illegal gold, as criminal gangs financed operations of an industrial scale. The Madre de Dios region produced 10 million grams of gold last year, accounting for 7.1 percent of Peru’s gold output.

The expansion has turned tens of thousands of hectares of rain forest into wasteland and operations have begun encroaching upon the Tambopata nature reserve that’s one of the world’s most biologically diverse areas.

Speaking to reporters from La Pampa, Interior Minister Carlos Moran said police will be stationed in the area to bolster security over a six-month period. The goal is to transform the local economy with the introduction of sustainable activities over the next two years, he said. Three military bases will also be set up.

The Women’s Ministry has taken into custody more than 30 teenage girls as young as 14 years who worked in brothels and bars in La Pampa.

(By John Quigley)