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Snap A gold buyer in La Pampa displays a recently purchased flake of pure gold extracted from the mines. All photos by the author Peru has the second-largest amount of rain forest in the world, but swaths of it are rapidly disappearing. According to former environmental minister Antonio Brack Egg, gold mining has devastated nearly , acres of the Peruvian Amazon. With no taxis in sight, I asked a woman selling snacks outside the airport for directions. She pointed east, toward the city. I began the soggy trek along a jungle road, my feet sinking in mud.
On March 25, a month before my visit, the government began reducing gasoline supplies to the region—depriving the miners of fuel for running the pumps and excavators they use to extract small bits of gold from the ground.
In response, miners blocked traffic on the Interoceanic Highway for weeks, staged hunger strikes, and marched through the streets of Puerto Maldonado and nearby Mazuco. One miner died, and 50 were injured in clashes with police.
Now, just before my arrival in town, the government had declared that they were going to officially end all mining in the region—by military means or otherwise.
But the 30, gold miners in Madre de Dios are some of the poorest people in Peru, and mining is their only source of income. Squeezing through a small metal door, we entered a restaurant that was serving coffee in secrecy, the scene reminiscent of a speakeasy. Smoke crawled through the room while groups of old men hunkered down at small tables, sipping their steaming drinks, playing cards.