|July 27, 2015|
Police burn down illegal gold mine town in Peru
|Two weeks ago it was thriving centre for illegal gold mining, home to hundreds of families with grocery stores, brothels and nightclubs set beneath tarpaulin roofs. |
Now it is a charred wreck, nothing but a blackened ghost town, after police torched the squatter community in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, one of hundreds of wildcatter sites responsible for destroying thousands of acres of pristine rainforest.
The settlement, La Pampa, is the latest to be targeted by a government task force set up to stem the illegal trade which is blamed for polluting the environment and spreading mercury poisoning.
As they go, armed police officers destroy entire towns, burning down buildings and dynamiting the pumps and engines needed to keep the mines running.
Critics say the brutal tactics are only a short-term measure and cannot slow the gold rush.
And then there are the people who rely on the mines for their living.
As she watched her former home being burned from the edge of the forest, Mariala Valdez told The Mirror: "We are not treated like humans, we are being treated worse than animals. What are we going to do now?
"We have nowhere to live and no way of supporting ourselves."
Photographs taken as police swept through La Pampa show the no-nonsense approach. Smoke rises into the air as officers clad in riot gear march through the rickety buildings with flaming torches in hand.
The illegal industry is estimated to have destroyed 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of rainforest in Madre de Dios, in Peru's south east.
As well as clearing forest, miners use mercury to isolate gold from mud in huge drums, frequently poisoning workers and allowing the deadly metal to seep into water courses.
While legal mines are covered by strict environmental regulations, most of the damage is done by the informal industry.
The extent of the damage was only revealed in 2013 with a report by the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington D.C. and Peru's Ministry of the Environment, which revealed how animals were losing their habitat and indigenous tribes -- some which had never made contact with the outside world -- were losing their homes.
The result was swift action. Officials began targeting illegal mines shortly afterwards and last year reported that they had halved output from sites in Made de Dios to eight tons.
But this year production has surged by 30% prompting the fresh crack-down.