Peruvian authorities have destroyed yet another illegal mining site in one of the country’s most popular national parks, but the ongoing failure of official efforts to target this trade strongly suggests operations will resume again before long.
On September 29, authorities dismantled an illegal mining camp in Quebrada Honda, located in Áncash's tourist hotspot of Huascarán National Park (Parque Nacional Huascarán), a protected reserve where the illicit extraction of gold, silver, copper and zinc has become ubiquitous.
According to El Comercio, the miners identified in this particular instance had been operating in the area for over eight years, despite multiple raids from authorities to shut down local extraction camps. The September raid was the fourth attempt by authorities to impede illegal mining activity in the zone since January.
Evelin Mercado Gutiérrez, the environmental prosecutor in charge of the latest investigation, told El Comercio that authorities had destroyed tools and equipment at the site, adding that the raid had been among the largest of its kind in 2020.
"We have practically immobilized the operation," she said.
So far, 45 arrests associated with illegal mining and environmental contamination have been made across Áncash this year. In 2019, 62 people were arrested on such charges in the region.
However, this appears to be just a drop in the ocean. According to Perú 21, Huascarán National Park is currently home to over 3,000 illegal mining camps, despite being officially recognized as a protected nature reserve since 1975.
Concerns surrounding the clandestine extraction of silver, zinc and other minerals in the park have been raised for several years. A review of sources from InSight Crime showed reports of illegal mining in the zone stretching back to at least 2009.
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This well-established pattern of official intervention quickly succeeded by the resumption of illicit mining operations in Áncash forms part of a concerning trend that has become commonplace across Peru.
In Peru’s relatively lawless department of Madre de Dios, authorities have repeatedly targeted illegal gold miners, loggers and human traffickers. Not long after the raids, the region typically sees the return of the illicit activities.
While Madre de Dios has received the lion’s share of government and media attention, the same dynamics driving the ebb and flow of illegal mining have been increasingly present in Áncash. There are no clear indications that this continuous chain of circumstances will be broken anytime soon.
Lorenzo Vallejos, an official studying environmental crime in Peru, told InSight Crime that "the Attorney General's Office and national police do not have the required resources to do their job in a proper way, in terms of intelligence and operations."
"There is a lack of collaboration among these institutions and other public entities in charge of regulating, preventing, monitoring, detecting, investigating and prosecuting illegal mining and related crimes," he said.
Mercado Gutiérrez admitted that "no sanctions" had been made against a single miner in Huascarán National Park, allegedly due to how authorities must ask for permission from the Peasant Community of Vicos (Comunidad Campesina de Vicos) before executing interventions to target illicit camps.
"In each operation, we request authorization and, when we arrive, we don’t find anybody there, or they hide the mining camp’s equipment. Therefore, people do not receive the sanctions they deserve and feel free to continue," she said.