Thousands of Informal Miners Start Process to Become Formal – Minister

Some 70,000 informal miners have started a process aimed at regulating their work, according to Mines and Energy Minister Jorge Merino.

The miners, who are accused of causing serious environmental damage and evading taxes in their small operations, have until the first week in December to start the process of incorporating as formal businesses, Merino said in a statement. The government hopes to incorporate some 100,000 informal miners.

Illegal and informal mining operations are found throughout Peru, but the largest number is in the jungle region of Madre de Dios, including the buffer zone of a wildlife reserve, where the search for placer gold has turned several river beds into treeless and muddy ‘deserts’. The activity has become a major social and environmental concern in one of the world’s most bio-diverse areas.

The head of management at the Tambopata Nature Reserve in Madre de Dios, Victor Zambrano, said that illegal mining, as well as other illicit activities, are destroying the environment.

“They are progressively killing the nature potential of Madre de Dios,” Zambrano told environmental news agency Inforegion. “They are destroying our territory.”

Tens of thousands of informal miners are estimated to be extracting placer gold in Madre de Dios, causing widespread deforestation and heavily polluting local waterways in one of the world’s most bio-diverse areas.

Authorities say that prostitution, including child prostitution, and human trafficking are prevalent in illegal mining camps and the settlements surrounding them.

Merino said it is important to differentiate between informal and illegal gold miners. “The informals are compatriots who have found in this activity a type of artisanal work, but who work in risky conditions, which is why it is necessary to formalize them so they can receive State guidance and support,” the minister said. “What is grave is that many of these small miners live in inhumane conditions putting at risk their health and that of their families.”

In contrast, “the illegals use machinery and infrastructure to prey on and destroy the area. We aren’t going to permit that,” Merino said.

Efforts by the government to control illegal mining in Madre de Dios have been met by stiff opposition leading to deadly protests. In May 2011, a military and police operation destroyed three industrial-sized gold dredges on the Marañon River near Yurimaguas, further north, and in November the same year further operations destroyed more than 130 dredges along several rivers in the Madre de Dios area.

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