TAMBOPATA, Peru – Peru has sent 1,000 police into its southeastern jungles to dismantle illegal gold-mining camps, just weeks before the country hosts global climate talks.
Even before the officers began blasting away at miners' makeshift shelters, the Amazon rainforest nearby looked like a war-scape, pocked with craters and littered with the trunks of amputated trees.
Peru's anti-illegal mining czar, retired army Gen. Augusto Soto, marched the men 6 miles (11 kilometers) to the wasteland known as La Pampa, where 50,000 hectares of rainforest have been obliterated in the past six years.
They destroyed motors and dynamited a dozen motorcycles as they tore down dwellings that included at least one mud-flanked bordello. The miners had removed and hidden some machinery.
Peru first criminalized unlicensed gold mining in 2012 but only began enforcing the law vigorously this year with serious manpower and explosives. The operations have displaced thousands of the estimated 40,000 people who authorities say moved to the jungle to mine gold.
In addition to contributing to deforestation, which scientists blame for between 12 and 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the illegal alluvial gold mining contaminates the jungle with tons of mercury.
Mercury is a toxin and has already contaminated the food chain, including fish, the local population's main protein source.
Peru's environment minister says the country loses about 400 square miles (between 100,000 and 120,000 hectares) a year to deforestation. The South American country will host U.N.-sponsored climate talks that start on Dec. 1.