In a massive operation, more than 2,000 police officers destroyed dozens of illegal mining camps in the heart of the country's mining area. Still, it's not clear whether this will have any long term impact on the trade.
Led by José Baella, head of of the Environmental Protection Directorate (Dirección de Protección de Medio Ambiente) of Peru's National Police (Policía Nacional del Perú - PNP), more than 2,000 police officers carried out Operation Mercury 1 (Mercurio I) in Peru's La Pampa municipality in the Madre de Dios region on July 4, El Comercio reported.
In total, the operation targeted 83 camps and 225 people, 6 of which were arrested for illegal mining, according to El Comercio. Officials said the camps were dispersed across three sectors of La Pampa: Zorro Valencia, La Nueva Peña and Tres Fronteras.
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Thirty-one engines, 756 gallons of diesel, 1,070 meters of hoses, 2,850 meters of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) piping and 11 electric generators, among other things, were either confiscated or destroyed by authorities during the operation. Officials estimated the worth of the destroyed engines between 70,000 and 80,000 soles (between $21,000 and $24,000).
Authorities also said they had rescued six women and two children from prostitution, in addition to arresting three individuals suspected of human trafficking.
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The operation was a show of force and resources. But authorities are still scrambling to combat the industry and save their deteriorating environment. And what comes next in this fight remains unclear, especially as it relates to the poorly funded regulators trying to tame the movement of illegal gold into the legal economy and ability of the government to mitigate the poor social and economic conditions that lead people to participate in this trade.
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Peru's government has made some moves. Earlier this year, the government introduced a dual strategy to classify illegal mining as a form of organized crime and initiated a program for miners to legalize their operations. Authorities have also ramped up investigative efforts into illegal gold exports and the money laundering associated with it.
Still, Peru's long term track record for combatting illegal mining, and that of the rest of the region, is not good. And shows of force will only get so far.