This article originally appeared in Spanish in the print edition of El Comercio.
“The mothers of Madre de Dios and Puno march against illegal mining and the mining strike.” I dream of seeing that kind of headline. Sadly, the power of the illegal gold mafias, allied with those whose political careers feed off of chaos, wish to paralyze all attempts to put an end to this poison and have called a strike. They want to deprive us of our basic right to a healthy life.
Parents and indigenous people of Peru, remember these statistics, which could already be the reality in many other regions where illegal mining takes place: two of every three children in Madre de Dios have a level of mercury contamination between two and three times higher than the maximum permissible limit, according to the World Health Organization. Indigenous children present the highest levels, over 5 times the maximum. More than 76% of the population of Madre de Dios has toxic levels of mercury, between 2 and 33 times higher than this maximum. Nearly 80% of the adult citizens of Puerto Maldonado city have toxic levels of contamination. The indigenous population of Madre de Dios has on average between two and three times more than non-indigenous populations (7 of the 10 sampled populations with the highest levels are indigenous communities). Although the rural population is more affected than city dwellers, the toxic mercury is in the streams and rains that water farms, and in the air around the markets where food and gold are bought and sold.
A strike against Peru
The highest level of mercury contamination among adults was found in women of childbearing age, almost three times the maximum. Mercury enters the bloodstream through the placenta to a developing fetus, causing permanent neurological damage, if the baby manages to survive. This information obtained by serious, independent scientific institutions, like the Carnegie Institute, and corroborated by similar organizations such as Duke University, is truly alarming- and should make us think that it is imperative to take decisive actions to stop this activity that is so harmful to our future. The planned mining strike is against controlling this activity.
The process of mining formalization has made significant progress and should continue to strengthen. Rarely in Peru have we seen action so purposeful and decisive, dismantling operations, intervening in airports, freezing Mafioso fortunes, harassing suppliers, and removing corrupt judges. Although these developments still are not enough and take time, they are on the right track and already show concrete results.
The school year is about to begin. Parents, let’s defend our children and those yet to come.
Enrique Ortiz is a tropical ecologist with a long history of research on species and ecological systems. He is a founder and board member of the Amazon Conservation Association and President of the Asociacion para la Conservacion de la Cuenca Amazónica, and an adviser to the Amazon Aid Foundation.