Madre de Dios Authorities Call for State of Emergency to Push Back Violent Mining Protests

Amid calls for a state of emergency among regional leaders, Interior Minister Daniel Lozada said late Wednesday that police will push back against the informal miners who have escalated deadly protests in the region of Madre de Dios, located in Peru’s south-eastern Amazon basin.

Lozada said that more than 40 people have been arrested in the city of Puerto Maldonado, where informal miners have been protesting for the past 10 days. By the end of Wednesday, three people were reported killed and some 38 injured during clashes between protesters and police. Among the wounded are nine police.

“We are in a position to say that we are retaking control of the city and we aren’t going to allow this to escalate,” Lozada said, according to state news agency Andina.  Some 800 police had been sent into the area earlier in the week.

Lozada said police have removed blockades from the Inter-Oceanic Highway, prevented protesters from overtaking the airport, and are providing security for businesses.

Business groups, however, have actually said that commercial activity has been affected and that the protests were costing the city approximately 1.5 million soles a day.

Protesting miners are calling on the government to revoke new decrees that hit their activity with tougher penalties, including 10 years in prison for mining in unauthorized areas and polluting the environment.

Illegal mining has led to the deforestation of large swaths of Madre de Dios’ Amazon forests and the mercury-contamination of rivers in the region.  In several areas, miners are encroaching on buffer zones and wildlife reserves in this megadiverse region that has begun to build sustainable development for indigenous communities through a successful and growing eco-tourism industry.

The former Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Giesecke, joined members of Congress and Madre de Dios regional leaders in a call for the Government to declare a state of emergency on the region, which would permit a series of measures including curfews and the right to search and arrest without warrants.

“Don’t make me weep, what we are seeing is horrible,” Giesecke said in an interview with Diario 16, adding that it was shameful that authorities had let the situation deteriorate to its current level.  Prior to his ousting from the Cabinet with premier Salomon Lerner Ghitis and several other ministers, Giesecke worked together with the Ministry of Energy and Mines and police and navy to destroy more than 130 gold dredgers on the region’s rivers, as part of a plan to bring in and contain the illegal gold miners within a “mining corridor” away from national parks.

The new minister of the Environment, Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, said this week his continuing talks with the illegal miners in Puerto Maldonado had deteriorated as the miners demands increased with every meeting, adding more representatives and then retracting on their decisions made only hours earlier.  Luis Otsuka, president of the illegal miners federation, told the minister that the miners encroaching on the wildlife reserve of Tambopata-Candamo refuse to negotiate their position.

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