Luis Otsuka, the president of a federation of small-scale gold miners in Peru’s Madre de Dios region called FEDAMIN, is one of tens of thousands of miners who are struggling to continue their lucrative activity in the face of a government initiative to reign in illegal mining.
“In 1987, the government gave me a loan to purchase mining equipment. Now the government wants to destroy that same machinery,” he says.
Otsuka and his fellow miners have spent much of the past year protesting a government crackdown on illegal mining and new legislation regulating legal mining. Over the past decade, a gold rush in Peru has drawn tens of thousands of peasants from impoverished highland communities to work in informal mining operations. In Madre de Dios, which comprises the southern portion of the Peruvian Amazon, small-scale miners have destroyed riverbanks, turned streams brown with sediment and transformed vast areas of rainforest into infertile wastelands. Countless people have also been exposed to toxic mercury, which the miners use to extract gold from sediment.