LIMA – The Peruvian government is moving forward this week with a plan to fight illegal mining in the Amazonian region of Madre de Dios by establishing three military bases in the ravaged La Pampa area, which has been affected by deforestation and mercury pollution.
A delegation led by Defense Minister Jose Huerta; Interior Minister Carlos Moran and Environment Minister Fabiola Muñoz was present Tuesday at the launch of the military operation to protect the Tambopata National Reserve.
Officials built Alfa, the first temporary joint mobile base, to fight illegal mining in the area.
Huerta told reporters accompanying the delegation that the government was establishing the military bases to protect the Amazon from gold mining in areas where the activity was banned.
“The government has made the political decision to be present in the area, to eradicate illegal mining,” Huerta said.
Every mobile base will be staffed by 100 soldiers, 50 police officers and a prosecutor, the defense minister said.
Peru is the top gold producer in Latin America and No. 6 in the world, but experts estimate that up to 25 percent of the gold produced in the Andean nation each year comes from illegal mines.
Huerta said the vast area devastated by illegal mining would be monitored using drones, satellites and a military aircraft that will take aerial photographs.
Illegal mining deforested more than 18,000 hectares (44,444 acres) in 2018, the Andean Amazon Monitoring Project said in a report released in January.
The base-establishment phase, which will take 180 days to complete, is the second stage of Operation Mercurio 2019, launched on Feb. 19 to combat the criminal organizations involved in illegal mining in La Pampa, a region of tropical forests that was damaged by the mercury used to produce gold.
In the first phase of the operation, authorities rescued 51 victims of human traffickers, arrested 80 suspects and confiscated 53 million soles ($16 million) worth of property.
President Martin Vizcarra’s administration declared a 60-day state of emergency in Tambopata, Inambari, Las Piedras and Laberinto to make easier to fight illegal mining.
During a state of emergency, constitutional rights, such as the right to personal liberty, freedom of assembly and freedom of transit, are suspended in the region.
The Prosecutor’s Office sent 70 prosecutors specializing in environmental crimes to investigate new forms of illegal mining in La Pampa and the criminal organizations operating in the area.