Informal miners begin strike

25 September 2013

Efforts to address the environmental and human rights impacts of informal mining face a setback as miners say new regulations are unworkable.

There are also demands for an investigation into the deaths of relatives of the union leader, Carmelo Hanco. Hanco is president of the Apus de Chunta association in Cotabambas, Apurímac. The bodies of his wife and young son were found on 18 September. Locals suspect that their deaths may be linked to disputes over mining rights.

Representatives of the National Confederation of Artisanal and Small-scale Miners, Conami, began an indefinite national strike on 30 September.

The union says that the existing process of formalisation is not viable since it lacks a budget and bans both mining in riverbeds, where many gold deposits are found, and the use of machinery. They say that continued state crackdowns on artisanal mining are undermining attempts to reach agreement. A spokesman for informal miners in the Madre de Dios region, in the south-eastern jungle, Luis Otsuka Salazar, also said that miners had difficulty in accessing the relevant state officials.

The official responsible for mining in Madre de Dios, Milder Oyola, echoed criticisms of the regulations, saying that they failed to deal with competing land claims from farmers. Miners “don’t know how to move ahead because there is a gap in the law regarding the problem of land ownership,” he said. Efforts to regulate have also been hampered by police corruption.

In late August, 100 pieces of machinery used by informal miners were destroyed in Madre de Dios, one of several recent interventions. President of the Madre de Dios Informal Miners Federation reacted angrily, saying that, “The aim [of such actions] is not to formalise the miners but rather to eliminate mining in this part of the country.”

However government officials have said that they will continue with the process, citing harm to health and the environment caused by mining. The government aims to formalise artisanal mining by April 2014. Nationally over 100,000 small-scale miners have begun the process of registration. But a recent journalistic investigation in Madre de Dios, one of the main centres of an industry worth US$2.6 billion, found that only 280 informal miners – about 1 per cent of the total – had begun the process and none had completed it.

Environmental NGO Cooperacción has pointed out that the number of artisanal mining concessions has grown by 20 per cent since November 2010. They are calling for a moratorium on new concessions until progress in regional planning and formalisation can regulate the industry more effectively. They also say that public funds and local capacity-building are needed to ensure that the environmental management tools that are required as part of the formalisation process are more than a tick-box exercise.

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