Gold rush in the Amazon – the usual result

Just as gold rushes in most parts of the world have led to many problems, a current, 21st-century gold rush, has brought lawlessness and destruction to the once pristine Madre de Dios region of Peruvian rainforest.

The press reports that illegal goldmining is laying waste to Madre de Dios, allegedly the most biodiverse region in the world.

The reporter was warned not to visit Guacamayo or to take photos. It is one of the largest illegal goldmining sites in the world.

The jungle/forest has been replaced by a vast desert dotted with shacks covered in blue plastic sheets where thousands of miners live. Environmentalists warn that the mining is rapidly destroying the Amazon’s Madre de Dios (Mother of God) region in south-east Peru, 33,000 square miles of dense rainforest containing the richest biodiversity on earth.

The news report states that Guacamayo is the largest illegal goldmining operation in Madre de Dios, but countless other sites have sprung up in the region. This is in addition to the legal mining concessions, whose numbers, according to miners’ unions, jumped from 500 in 2004 to more than 2,600 today.

To engaged in this activity, a road was cut into this once inaccessible territory. The 1,600-mile Trans-Oceanic Highway links the Amazon river ports of Brazil with the Pacific ones of Peru. After 40 years of planning and construction, the road was finally inaugurated in December 2010.

The reporter states that the £570 million highway is viewed as South America’s infrastructure project of the century. But it sounds the death knell for the local environment, and has unleashed a tidal wave of land exploitation and corruption.

He also states that illegal goldmining in Peru has grown into a £390-million-a-year industry, employing 100,000 people nationally (it was only a few thousand some years ago), mostly in Madre de Dios where, according to the government, more than 2,000 square miles of forest have already been destroyed (environment groups say this figure is three times higher). ‘Madre de Dios is the most biodiverse region in the world because it was so remote and inaccessible,’ the botanist Oliver Whaley told me from his office at Kew Gardens in London. ‘The Trans-Oceanic Highway is like putting a knife into the last large area of rainforest left on earth.’

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