A high-ranking Peruvian police officer recently linked rising violence in Madre de Dios to the region’s illegal gold mining industry, highlighting the various criminal activities fueled by illicit gold revenues and their potentially adverse security consequences.
Data from the National Police reported by El Comercio indicates that the number of crimes against public security recorded in Madre de Dios has more than tripled over the past year, rising from 116 to 381, while the number of reported thefts rose from 189 to 382.
According to the Peruvian Economic Institute (Instituto Peruano de Economía), the region’s homicide rate in May 2016 also rose to 20.1 per 100,000 inhabitants -- far surpassing Peru’s national average of 6.7 homicides per 100,000 -- placing Madre de Dios as the second most dangerous region behind Tumbes.
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The Madre de Dios region, which borders Brazil and Bolivia, has long been one the major hotspots for illegal gold mining in Peru, an industry that authorities have previously estimated could be worth up to $3 billion annually. According to some estimates, illegal mining accounts for more than half of the economy in Madre de Dios.
Speaking to El Comercio, the head of the regional police, Colonel Amador Chávez Carhuamaca, said the rising violence was directly linked to the illegal mining industry. These claims were supported by local prosecutor Pedro Washington Luza, who pointed out that the majority of crimes investigated by the Public Ministry were located in mining areas, particularly that of La Pampa.
According to Colonel Chávez, security forces lack sufficient human resources to tackle criminal groups engaged in illegal mining, whose numbers have been increasing in relation to the growing gold revenues in the area. Speaking of La Pampa, the officer said there were between ten and twelve criminal organizations vying for control of the illegal gold market, and that he lacked at least 500 police officers needed to effectively patrol the area.
InSight Crime Analysis
Illicit mining operations often fuel a number of separate but related criminal activities. One of the most common crimes linked to illegal mining is human trafficking, which can serve to supply forced labor at the illicit mining sites as well as prostitution rings where paid workers can spend their money. Other criminal activities commonly linked to illegal mining include money laundering and the drug trade. Competition over these criminal economies can spark violence, and this may be part of the reason why murder rates in Madre de Dios have been on the rise.
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The large amount of money that can be made from the illegal mining operations themselves -- and the relative lack of capacity of local security forces -- may be another factor behind the rising violence. Additionally, the fact that Madre de Dios now suffers from a homicide rate close to that of Tumbes, where the port of Callao’s key role as drug shipment point is responsible for much of the violence, could be a worrying sign that Peru’s illegal gold industry may be evolving in a similar way to Colombia’s, where powerful criminal organizations enjoy near complete control over the exploitation of illegal gold.