By Chris Lang
Since 1985, gold miners have cleared more than 100,000 hectares of forest in Madre de Dios in Peru. Two-thirds of that area was cleared since 2009. A 2020 study found that one area of 23,613 hectares released 1.12 million metric tons of carbon.
Peru is the sixth largest producer of gold in the world, with 70% coming from Madre de Dios.
On 19 February 2019, Peru’s government launched Operation Mercury, declared martial law, and sent hundreds of sodiers and police to evict about 5,000 miners.
At the end of 2020, the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) reported on rates of deforestation caused by gold mining before and after Operation Mercury.
MAAP used satellite images to look at six key sites and reported four results:
- Gold mining deforestation decreased 90% in La Pampa (the most critical mining area) following Operation Mercury.
- Gold mining deforestation increased in three key areas – Apaylon, Pariamanu, and Chaspa – indicating that some miners expelled from La Pampa moved to surrounding areas. The Peruvian government, however, has recently carried out major interventions in all three of these areas.
- Overall, gold mining deforestation decreased 78% across all six sites following Operation Mercury.
- Illegal mining does persist, however. We documented 1,115 hectares of gold mining deforestation across all six sites since Operation Mercury (but, compared to 6,490 hectares before the Operation).
New illegal gold mining hotspot
MAAP puts out regular reports about deforestation in the Andes Amazon. The most recent, MAAP #137 on 4 May 2021, is titled “New illegal gold mining hotspot in Peruvian Amazon – Pariamanu”.
MAAP’s report reveals that some illegal gold mining has moved from La Pampa, and that “the most emblematic hotspot is located along the Pariamanu River”.
MAAP has documented 204 hectares of gold mining deforestation in the Pariamanu area since 2017. MAAP writes that,
This mining activity is clearly illegal because it is located within Brazil-nut forestry concessions, and is outside the permitted mining zone (commonly called the “mining corridor”).
MAAP #137 includes satellite images from Planet Labs Inc:
Illegal gold mining inside a REDD project
I know, I probably should get out more, but I recognised those bends in the river. I’d included a screenshot from Google Maps of precisely this illegal gold mining operation in a post about the REDD Project in Brazil Nut Concessions in Madre de Dios:
MAAP has been putting out alerts about gold mining along Rio Pariamanu for several years. In November 2016, MAAP reported on deforestation in Peru as a result of gold mining, including four areas along the Pariamanu River. MAAP’s report states that,
we documented the start of mining in a new area: along the Pariamanu river. We estimate that, so far, gold mining deforestation along this river has reached 170 acres [69 hectares].
In January 2020, MAAP put out a second report about gold mining in Peru that featured mining along the Pariamanu River:
By then, the deforestation had reached 99 hectares. MAAP noted that the mining deforestation is within Brazil nut forestry concessions. And MAAP warned that “there were indications that some miners displaced by Operation Mercury (in February 2019) have moved to this area”.
In response, Peru’s Special Prosecutor for Environmental Matters (FEMA – Fiscalía Especializada en Materia Ambiental) carried out a series of field operations aimed at cracking down on illegal mining in Pariamanu.
FEMA carried out field operations in May, August, and September 2020. In April 2021, FEMA carried out another operation against the illegal miners. In each case, FEMA destroyed mining machinery and equipment.
Indigenous Peoples threatened by illegal miners
In August 2020, Mongabay Latam reported that Indigenous People from Boca Pariamanu had been threatened by illegal gold miners. Two men approached Alfredo, a man from the Amahuaca Indigenous Peoples, when he visited the nearby town of Puerto Maldonado. One blocked his way and the other said, “You are the one who warns so that mining is not done. Carry on and at any time we are going to kill you.”
In December 2020, about 20 people were assaulted when they were travelling by boat on the Pariamanu River to Puerto Maldonado. Five armed men got on the boat near the illegal mining operations. They pretended to be passengers and robbed the people during the trip.
The Indigenous People can no longer fish in the Pariamanu River because of mercury poisoning from the gold mining operations. They hear the noise from the miners engines day and night.
José, one of the Indigenous People who spoke to Mongabay Latam said that the mining is taking place inside Brazil nut concessions, and that the increase in illegal mining is a result of collusion between the Brazil nut concessionaires and the owners of engines and dredgers to extract gold. José told Mongabay Latam that,
The concessionaires invite the miners to operate on their land. Or sometimes miners show up to dig there. If there is an agreement, the chestnut growers collect their royalties.
In a recent article for Mongabay Latam, journalist Enrique Vera spoke to Amahuaca Indigenous People who told him that Brazil nut concessionaires allow miners to operate on their land in exchange for between 10 and 15 grammes of gold each week, depending on how much gold is extracted.
An Amahuaca leader told Mongabay Latam that despite FEMA’s field operations there are still three major mining areas. The leader said that deforestation as a result of mining has spread throughout the Pariamanu river basin to Boca Pariamarca, more than an hour by river from Boca Pariamanu. He told Mongabay that the miners have built new bars, shops selling alcohol, and brothels.
The Amahuaca told Mongabay Latam that after FEMA’s field operations against illegal mining, the mining gangs wait a few days before returning – either to the same place, or to new areas along the Pariamanu River. Despite several raids by FEMA, no illegal miners have so far been caught.
Illegal gold mining inside a REDD project
The illegal gold mining taking place along the Pariamanu River is taking place in Brazil nut concessions, some of which are part of the REDD Project in Brazil Nut Concessions in Madre de Dios. That’s the REDD project that supposed to be offsetting emissions from the Nifty Gateway’s sales of digital artworks as non-fungible tokens.
The technology and forest offsetting company Pachama includes the REDD Project in Brazil Nut Concessions as part of its “Amazon portfolio” of carbon offsets. The screenshot above is from Pachama’s website – the white line is the boundary of a Brazil nut concession that is part of the REDD project.
Mongabay Latam spoke to the director of the Police Environment Directorate, General PNP José Ludeña Condori. He said that the main barrier to expanding police operations to cover Pariamanu is the lack of budget.
General Ludeña told Mongabay Latam that,
We are operating with minimal personnel and this should not be the case. Our staff for operations has been reduced. We are interested in being in all the places where they need us but unfortunately we are left with the impotence of not being able to do so because resources are insufficient. This is the reality at the moment.
PHOTO Credits: FEMA Madre de Dios.
This post is part of a series of posts on REDD-Monitor looking at REDD and environmental injustice in the Andes Amazon.