When we think of the Amazon being destroyed by greedy miners, we usually point the finger of blame at the governments involved. What I was surprised to hear is that illegal mining is a major problem in the jungles of Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru—to the extent that the three countries have met for a conference in Quito, Ecuador, to deal with the problem. Just to give you an idea of the extent of the problem, Peru This Week has come out strong against the practice:
Illegal mining and has proven itself to be one of the dirtiest businesses in Peru. It is estimated to have bigger earning than drug-dealing, placing itself as the biggest illegal trade in the country. For some, it is the only available means of survival, but for others it is only about the money. Exploitation of natural resources are rapidly increasing in the Amazon rainforest and Andean highlands; government officials have not done much to stop the extraction of these minerals, and local authorities are not doing enough to stop the people who now rule these resourceful lands. Special military squads have now started to confiscate mining equipment. The miners have responded with force.
During the last months there have been protests, conducted by the illegal miners, towards the government. The miners are asking the government to stop forces from confiscating their illegal mining camps. Protesters have violently targeted police forces in large protests all around the country’s main cities. Many police officers have been severely injured yet the violence hasn’t stopped.
How is this possible? Illegal mining in many cases is run by organized crime. This means that there are powerful people behind the miners making big profits. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers representative, Daniel Uresti, states that this business moves over 1 billion dollars per year, and that illegal mining is bonded with organized crime. With this amount of money at risk, illegal miners are going to do whatever it takes stop the government from taking down mining camps, even if that includes violence like the one seen on the protests. Analysts say that long term consequences for illegal mining can reach lead to the union of the two most feared organizations in Peru, the deadly drug cartel and the growing terrorist groups. If Peru lets illegal mining grow, it will only be time until an escalation of events leads the country into more conflict.
When the illegal miners are strong enough to protest openly against the government they are robbing, it’s clearly time to shut them down. In Peru, a nationwide ban against illegal mining has been in effect since April 19, and the Peruvian army is now moving to confiscate and wreck the equipment that is being used.
We all breathe the air that comes from the headwaters of the Amazon. My feeling is that the United Nations should also get involved.