Peruvian Jungle Gold Miners Protest Leaves Three Dead

Peruvian protests against government plans to regulate small-scale mining left at least three dead and 50 wounded in the southern Amazon jungle today, the government said.

About 5,000 illegal gold miners threw stones at police who fired tear gas to clear roadblocks and reopen a highway to Brazil and the airport in the city of Puerto Maldonado, 1,700 kilometers (1,060 miles) southeast of Lima, in footage aired by Lima-based Canal N. Police arrested 61 protesters, Interior Minister Daniel Lozada told the station.

“We’re gaining control of the city and we won’t allow this to get out of control,” Lozada said. “We’ve identified the leaders, who will respond for all this trouble.”

The government last year banned gold panning and dredges that are polluting 5 million hectares (12 million acres) in the Madre de Dios region of Peru’s Amazon River basin. The area along the border with Bolivia and Brazil accounted for about 13 percent of Peru’s 164 metric tons of gold output last year.

Rising gold prices have spurred a $2 billion annual illegal mining industry in 21 of Peru’s 24 regions, according to the National Society of Mining, Petroleum & Energy, an industry group. The government has destroyed dozens of dredges and has decreed up to 10-year prison sentences for illegal miners.

“The State is not taking on subsistence mining, but rather large illicit organizations that finance illegal mining and cause irreparable damage to the environment and people’s health,” the group’s president Pedro Martinez said today in an e-mailed statement. “The real promoters of illegal mining are well-organized mafia who exploit men, women and children in conditions of semi-slavery.”

Gold futures for April delivery fell 3 percent to settle at $1,642.90 an ounce at 1:41 p.m. on the Comex in New York. Gold, which touched a record $1,923.70 in September, has doubled in the past three years.

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