Illegal Gold Represents 20 Percent of Peru’s Gold Exports

Illegally-mined gold represents about 20 percent of Peru’s overall exports of the precious metal, according to tax agency Sunat.

Illegal gold mining has taken off over the past decade in the Madre de Dios basin  and has been the source of mercury pollution in indigenous communities, whose fish are now contaminated, and has caused deforestation of thousands of hectares of the Amazon rainforest.

Gold is Peru’s second biggest export product, after copper. Each metal represents about 20 percent of Peru’s total exports.

The head of Sunat, Tania Quispe, said in an interview with newspaper El Comercio that unregulated mining produces some $2.6 billion in gold exports every year.

“This problem has taken off in the last few years due to the high price of gold and the inaction of the state,” Quispe was reported saying.

In November this year, a Swiss public-private alliance —the Better Gold Initiative— launched its program in Peru to assist artisanal and small miners in their efforts to respect environmental and social standards (gold represents 99 percent of Peruvian exports to Switzerland). The initiative deals with legally-established miners only, and initially will be working in Ayacucho, Ica, Arequipa, Piura and Apurimac, but the Environment ministry sees this as a step towards incorporating more miners who begin to understand the benefits of working within the legal system.

The government is currently carrying out a joint police-military operation to destroy gold dredges used along the rivers of Madre de Dios, in a program that began approximately two years ago,  and the Environment and Mining Ministries are trying to contain the miners within a corridor that will not encroach on natural reserves in this richly biodiverse area, but vast areas have been damaged from decades of ignoring the issue.

Sunat oversees the consumption of chemicals and heavy machinery, used by illegal miners, as a means of monitoring tax evasion.

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