HomeNewsBriefSoaring Gold Prices During Pandemic Fuel Peru's Illegal Mining
BRIEF

Soaring Gold Prices During Pandemic Fuel Peru's Illegal Mining

GOLD / 30 JUN 2020 BY SERGIO SAFFON EN

Miners in Peru have skirted coronavirus mobility restrictions to return to Madre de Dios -- an Amazon region where the military launched a massive 2019 operation to root out illegal miners.

Illegal mining operations have ramped up in the Tambopata National Reserve, a protected area of tropical rainforest in southeastern Madre de Dios, El Comercio reported. Miners have also made incursions along the banks of the Malinowski, Tambopata and Pariamanu rivers.

The beginning of the quarantine saw miners in Madre de Dios leave for other regions, such as Cusco and Puno, according to El Comercio.

But people involved in illegal activities are entering prohibited zones once again, Peruvian biologist Carmen Chávez told news outlet La Repúblíca.

SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profile

In response to reports of an uptick, Peru's special prosecutor's office for environmental affairs (Fiscalía Especializada en Materia Ambiental — FEMA) carried out more than 75 interventions against illegal mining operations in Madre de Dios between March and early June, breaking up mining sites and destroying machinery.

While Madre de Dios has not reported a large-scale outbreak of coronavirus, with only 1,467 confirmed cases and 25 deaths as of June 29, authorities have warned that the arrival of more miners could spread the virus in a region poorly equipped to detect and treat cases.

Peru had registered some 279,000 cases of coronavirus on June 29, with 9,300 deaths.

InSight Crime Analysis

Illegal miners in Peru have been emboldened by weakened controls and soaring gold prices.

In February 2019, Peru launched a massive deployment of 1,800 police and military officers to Madre de Dios. The force drove out thousands of miners, destroyed millions of dollars in wildcat mining equipment, and broke up business in La Pampa, a hotbed for illegal mining and other criminal activities, such as human trafficking and prostitution.

In the region of La Pampa, deforestation decreased by 92 percent during the operation's first five months. Illegal mining, however, soon increased in other parts of the country, including the Amazon department of Loreto.

Now the withdrawal of police and army forces to enforce lockdowns and attend to the health crisis has allowed for illegal mining to return to Madre de Dios, Karina Garay, Madre de Dios' environmental prosecutor, told El Comercio.

SEE ALSO: Satellite Images Show Evolution of Illegal Gold Mining in Peru

The global spike in gold prices, which reached their highest level since 2012 at $1,764.55 per ounce in May, has also fueled the demand for illegally sourced gold.

According to Pablo de la Flor, executive director of Peru's National Society of Mining, Petroleum and Energy (Sociedad Nacional de Minería, Petróleo y Energía - SNMPE), legal mining exports dropped by 65 percent in April. Official mining operations have had to adhere to the lockdown, allowing illegal miners to flourish in their stead.

Peru is not alone in this crisis. In Venezuela, illegal gold mining has provided illicit cash flows to President Nicolás Maduro's regime amid the collapse of the price of petroleum and a decrease in remittances as a result of worldwide confinement measures.

Venezuelan gold is principally mined in the Arco Minero zone, where miners are forced to work in precarious conditions under the constant threat of armed groups, including the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional ­– ELN) guerrillas.

Luis Fernandez, a researcher with decades of experience researching the impacts of gold mining in the tropics, predicted that illegal miners would likely to return to Madre de Dios.

“Going in with an iron fist in La Pampa, that stops the problem for the time that you’ve got the fist closed,” Fernandez told Mongabay. “But if you open that up, things might change very fast. It might go back to the way it was.”

It appears that the coronavirus health crisis has done much to loosen that grip.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ARGENTINA / 3 FEB 2021

As workers across Latin America struggle to stay afloat amid economic strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, loan sharks offering…

CHILE / 28 OCT 2021

Chile has become a convenient exit point for illegal gold from the Amazon, with Dubai emerging as a consistent destination…

COCA / 4 NOV 2021

Though the amount of coca in Peru has been the subject of recent debate, reports indicate that coca crops have…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…