A protest in Peru’s south-eastern Madre de Dios region intensified this week as demonstrators blocked a key highway and tried to take over the local airport.
The protest was launched towards the start of the week by local groups and politicians that want the central government in Lima to rescind decrees aimed at curbing illegal gold mining that has wreaked havoc on the region’s lush Amazon rainforest.
According to Peru.21, the protesters blocked sections of the Inter-Oceanic Highway and tried to take over the airport in Puerto Maldonado, the regional capital. Photos published in local media showed residents marching beside tires set on fire to block roads.
Madre de Dios is at the center of illegal gold mining in Peru. The government has struggled to curb the activity, resorting to police operations that temporarily dismantle mining camps but that have little long term impact.
Illegal mining has caused major environmental damage in Madre de Dios, turning green rainforest into a barren moon-like landscape.
The protest is being supported by Madre de Dios regional president Luis Otsuka, who was seen marching along with demonstrators.
Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal accused Otsuka of wanting “complete impunity” for illegal mining in Madre de Dios. The government’s regulations aims to control the use of fuel and machinery used by illegal miners.
“There is a short-term vision from a person that believes in destroying the Amazon,” Pulgar-Vidal said of Otsuka.
Mines and Energy Minister Rosa Maria Ortiz said the government wouldn’t rescind the regulations.
“The majority of the protesters work in the activity [of extracting gold from the jungle]. They want the market to be open and that is not possible,” she said.