Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
In this May 4, 2014 photo, a miner holds an amalgam of mercury and gold he mined after working a 28-hour shift at an illegal gold mining process, in La Pampa, in Peru's Madre de Dios region. Thousands of artisanal gold miners sweat through the long shifts and endure, for a few grams of gold, the perils of collapsing earth, limb-crushing machinery and the toxic mercury used to bind gold flecks. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
AP PHOTOS: Miners’ hard life now tinged with fear
First Published May 12 2014 10:31 am • Last Updated May 12 2014 04:20 pm

La Pampa, Peru • They sweat through 28-hour shifts in the malarial jungle of the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru, braving the perils of collapsing earth and limb-crushing machinery to come up with a few grams of gold.

Most illegal miners hail from impoverished highlands communities and even here barely earn subsistence wages. They chew coca leaf, a mild stimulant, to ward off the fatigue that can lead to fatal accidents.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Life is cheap in the mining camps. Deaths go unrecorded and the mercury miners use to bind the gold compounds the risks. Tons of mercury dumped into the environment poisons the food chain for society at large, starting with the miners and their families.

Peru’s government wants to end all that, rooting out the estimated 20,000 wildcat miners whose toil has left a huge scar of denuded Amazon rainforest known as La Pampa, an area nearly three times the size of Washington, D.C.

Peru’s government declared all informal mining illegal on April 19 and began a crackdown. It raided the older boomtown of Huepetuhe, dynamiting backhoes, trucks and generators. Troops even destroyed the outboard motors of canoes used to ferry mining equipment across the Inambari river.

In La Pampa, miners fear they are next. Their gasoline supplies have already been choked off by authorities.

Some buried their equipment after the crackdown began only to unearth it days later when no raid came. But come it eventually will, the government says, because there no legal mining concessions exist in La Pampa.

The government’s point man on eradicating illegal mining, Daniel Urresti, says the real criminals aren’t the miners, but an estimated 50 people they work for, who own the illegal machinery and buy the gold.

People in La Pampa say that if the authorities eradicate their livelihood, it must make good on promises to provide employment alternatives.

"Motors are my life. I’m a mechanic. If the government comes and destroys them, then from what will I and my family live?" said Leoncio Condori.


story continues below
story continues below

The 51-year-old, a native of the Andes city of Cuzco, has been fixing motors in La Pampa ever since artisanal gold miners began carving out lawless, ramshackle settlements from Amazon jungle there in 2008.

———

Associated Press writers Franklin Briceno and Frank Bajak in Lima contributed to this report.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.