Peru's presidential frontrunner Keiko Fujimori is courting the country's sizable illegal mining population ahead of the upcoming election, a new report states, but activists fear her proposals will only accelerate environmental degradation in the Amazon.
Fujimori has pledged to roll back the restrictions on the gold industry that were put in place by the administration of current President Ollanta Humala, reported Reuters. She says she will repeal a ban on dredges and heavy machinery in mines as well as other laws designed to protect the environment.
According to Reuters, Humala's support among miners helped him edge out Fujimori in a close 2011 presidential campaign. But miners feel that the Humala administration has treated them as criminals instead of help them gain legal status and enter the formal economy. Fujimori is now trying to use that resentment to her advantage.
"Today they're persecuted, they're under investigation, and unfortunately at times they can't even buy their most essential tool -- dynamite," Fujimori said at a recent meeting with representatives of small-scale miners.
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With over 400,000 small-scale miners in Peru, the mining sector will likely be a crucial constituent group for Fujimori. But environmentalists and opponents fear her proposals would open up the Amazon to even more unregulated mining and further damage to the region's eco-system. Fujimori's opponent, former central bank president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, tried to dramatically make that point in a recent debate.
"What we don't want is this, what's happening in [the state of] Madre de Dios," Kuczynski told Fujimori at a presidential debate as he held up an aerial photo of rainforest pocked with illegal mining pits, Reuters reported. "That's going to happen in multiples if you follow through with what you say."
SEE ALSO: Peru News and Profile
Illegal mining has indeed had a serious environmental impact on the Amazon. Authorities recently called a state of emergency in Madre de Dios because of mercury contamination from illegal mining.
Peru's illegal gold mining industry -- which brings in an estimated $3 billion every year, more than double the earnings of the illicit drug trade -- has reportedly attracted the attention of illegal armed groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).
The lucrative and poorly regulated industry makes illegal mining a prime target for money laundering operations. According to official statistics, the amount of illegal gold mining profits laundered in Peru rose from $1 billion to $1.5 billion between mid-2012 and early 2014. In late April Peru's First Lady, Nadine Heredia, warned that Fujimori's plans could strengthen the already close relationship between illegal gold mining and money laundering.
Ademas de daño ambiental, la minería ilegal ya mueve más dinero sucio que el narcotráfico, y keiko lo promuevehttps://t.co/bEEkwBlfjb
— Nadine Heredia (@NadineHeredia) April 30, 2016
In addition to environmental damage, illegal mining now moves more dirty money than drug trafficking, and Keiko [Fujimori] promotes it."