Business & Economy

Informal miners accuse Peru gov’t of pushing them into illegality

By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, Jun 14 (EFE).- The procedures launched in Peru to properly register activities in the mining sector, which represents 10 percent of the country’s GDP, have pushed some informal miners into illegal actions, miners said amid the national debate sparked by the deaths of 14 people in a clash over control of a mining deposit.

“We all have to formalize ourselves, but under … these regulations unfortunately they’re not letting us (do so) … We have rules that are prejudicial, punishing, that regrettably have not been made in accord with reality and have brought more illegal mining,” the president of the Federation of Miners in Madre de Dios province, Adrian Vilca Callata, told EFE.

In this jungle region, one of the areas most in the grip of “alluvial gold fever,” miners produce 70 percent of the gold obtained in Peru, which is Latin America’s biggest producer of the precious metal.

In addition, 70 percent of its economy is linked to mining, although the great majority of the activity is illegal and informal, a scenario that not only results in millions of dollars in losses each year due to tax evasion but also creates environmental risks.

The more than 5,000 miners who are members of the federation headed by Vilca have been working for years to register and regularize their activities. They say that they remain firmly committed to operating legally, to “gradually stop using mercury” and to mine in a “socially, economically and environmentally responsible” way.

But they insist that the lack of the state’s presence in the region, political instability and the current regulations have created “complete disorder” there, populating the mining zone with illegal miners, who they refer to as “unfair competition.”

“Miners can’t file petitions (for new mining concessions) and more than 50 percent of the (existing) concessions have expired,” Vilca said after mentioning that, in contrast to informal miners, the illegally operating ones “don’t pay taxes, their personnel are not on the payroll, the Sunat doesn’t pursue them and they’re not subject to fiscal controls,” referring to the National Customs and Tax Administration Superintendency (Sunat).

Given that situation, “Why are they going to formalize (their activities)?” he asked.

The process of formalizing mining activities in Peru includes, among other things registering in the Reinfo mining formalization register as an active miner operating in an area where mining is allowed, as well as obtaining accreditation for property and/or equipment and authorization for using the land for mining operations.

Currently, in Madre de Dios there are 9,548 miners who have signed up with Reinfo to formalize their activities, of whom 3,065 are active and 6,483 whose registration has lapsed, according to a document provided to EFE by the Mining Formalization General Directorate within the Energy and Mines Ministry (Minem).

There are only 170 formalized mining operations and they directly benefit 326 mining producers and individual miners.

Although the first step in the registration process was taken in 2002, it wasn’t until the end of 2018 that the first two miners in Madre de Dios were regularized – Pablo Hincho and Willington Paullo – both of whom live in the Laberinto district in Tambopata province.

According to Minem, the main obstacles to formalization are basically due to three factors, including the prevalence of lapsed or blocked mining rights.

In that regard, the ministry emphasized that a rule approved in 2010 is the one that “currently is creating illegal mining” by suspending the admission of new operating requests by miners in the areas of lapsed or blocked mining rights, which currently number 1,444, or 54 percent of the total.

“These miners will not be able to formalize themselves, running the risk of (their activities being halted) by the Attorney General’s Office and the police,” the document reads, going on to say that the area in which mining activities can occur has been increased to about 500,000 hectares (1.25 million acres) in Madre de Dios.

The second factor is related to the lack of a regulatory framework to sort out the overlapping of mining concessions and that is the situation affecting Vilca, who said that his concession is impinged upon by a river and “there’s no clear rule for this kind of regularization.”

Finally, Minem adds, there has been a significant slowdown in the registration requests by miners working on invalid mining concessions, and thus they cannot sell their product legally because they cannot provide information that it comes from a legal and extant concession.

In 2021, there were 20 miners who applied to Reinfo who were formalized, the minuscule number being ascribed to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic by the authorities.

But via so-called “Plan 150” the government is intending to register 150 small-scale mining operations in permitted and authorized areas in Madre de Dios by the end of this year.

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