On January 31, 2010 the Peruvian Administer of Environment, Antonio Brack, passed a law that forbids mining in several parts within the State of the Madre de Dios. On April 4th there will be a national mining strike. This law particularly targets “informal mining” along the river of the Madre de Dios and he has drawn up a map of where future mining will now be allowed or not allowed. Informal mining is illegal, and means that it is being done without a permit, usually consisting of small barges that float along the river banks and mine for gold opportunistically.
The laws that require miners to obtain paperwork have rarely been enforced until now and consequently are habitually ignored by smaller mining groups. With the rising price of gold and new flux of formal and informal mining operations appearing on the Rio de Madre de Dios, pressure from environmentalists and indigenous groups to cease the practice have arisen. The formal mining operations are usually boated in all the way from Brazil and function using massive mining boats with a bottomless budget. The informal miners live in along the banks of the river with their families and are usually depend entirely on the small profit they make each week to make ends meet. They grey area that over laps includes miners who are employed by medium sized companies in Puerto Maldonado and other Peruvian cities to mine the gold and in return receive a small percentage of the profit.
As with every law, there are two sides to the coin. Mining is dangerous. Not only for the river which is exposed to constant dredging and massive deposits of mercury from the boats (used to separate the gold from other substrates) but also for the workers. Many miners spend the majority of their day up to their necks in the river which causes immediate and consequential health risks including life-long fungal infections, susceptibility to tuberculosis and constant exposure to mercury. Most of the people who work for the these operations (formal or informal) as mentioned above, are already living through incredible hardships for very little profit. Hmm…still want that gold ring?
While this law is important, it is also extremely quixotic. There are no job alternatives given within this law, nor any details that provide a safety net for the families who will lose everything once mining is taken away from them. Upon closer inspection, this law in its current state will most strongly affect those who are already precariously living on the financial edge. There are immediate consequences from this predicament.
On April 1st the CICRA station will be evacuated, 3 days before the national mining strike on April 4th. Communities around here are close knit and rumors travel faster than the muddy river that runs along our banks. There have been numerous threats that have trickled through from the small mining villages that on April 4th several groups will come to CICRA and vandalize the station because we are associated with a conservation organization. The stronger rumors have suggested that they plan to burn down all of the buildings. On the spectrum of responses to this new law, these attacks are obviously coming from the very small percentage of radical and violent miners who prefer a blind and immediate revenge in retaliation. In past national strikes several government buildings and conservation headquarters were burned to the ground in Puerto Maldonado so these threats are being taken very seriously.
Little ol’ me will be far from the action. As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I will be traveling to the Tambopata Research Center (which happens to be incredibly far down river from Puerto) on April 1st to collect mosquitoes. Also, since the station I will be staying at is mostly a tourist attraction and field school, there is actually an armed security force!! Locura!!
So no worries about your favorite Amazonian gringa please. CICRA, however, is in grave danger. The director, manager and several staff members plan to stay here with a hired security force (actually, the marines) in hopes of dissuading any invaders from burning down our precious station. If the worst case scenario occurs…in which this place is destroyed…I will not be abandoning ship. Never!!!! I have offered my services to rebuild the station if need be. I will be updating everyone on the situation as the date draws closer and as I get news from CICRA as the events unfold.
And now for some happy news!! My friend Emma had an amazing botfly extracted from her head the other day! Here is a photo:
Notice the black barbs around the head that are used to dig into the upper layer of skin so it can’t be squeezed out. How charming. And some actual good news exists too! A group of volunteers named “There Will Be Dragons” recently passed through and helped build the new organic veggie garden! Here is the process at the half way mark.
Thanks guys! I also have these adorable little sprouts just waiting patiently to go into the ground. Yeay.