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Illegal Mining Peru’s Largest National Park

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Illegal mining road in Huascarán National Park
Illegal mining road in Huascarán National Park

The words “National Park” and “Mining” most likely don’t go together in our minds, unless the word “prohibited” is included. Indeed, “mining” operations have been “prohibited” in Huascarán “National Park” (Parque Nacional Huascarán, en Español), since 1987, but apparently not if you care less about the law or the environment than making sweet, sweet, profits off raping the planet of her closely-guarded resources.

Huascarán National Park was established in 1975 and covers some 1,300 square miles in the White Mountain Range (Cordillera Blanca) of Peru. In 1985, the park was also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The home of perhaps 1,000 unique plant, animal, and bird species, as well as over a thousand glaciers, lakes, and ponds, Huascarán National Park needs protection from, well, practically everyone, it seems.

Honcopampa, an archeological zone just up the road from illegal mining operations.
Honcopampa, an archeological zone just up the road from illegal mining operations.

Tourism is encouraged in Huascarán National Park, which makes money for the local inhabitants, many of whom live off the land, much as they have for centuries. That land, along with its water and air, however, is under threat from illegal mining operations who scoff at things like “law” and “pristine mountain range.” At most entry points to the park, there are checkpoints where you pay for entry, ostensibly for maintenance and protection.

Must jump through hoops to get to this section of the park.
Must jump through hoops to get to this section of the park.

One place in particular is used to keep nosey journalists, environmentalists, do-gooders, and some tourists from looking at what’s really going on (story and video in Spanish). Vicos is a small town on the way into Huascarán National Park, and it costs a little less than a dollar to get through the checkpoint, after they determine you’re not a threat. But what could be the threat? Of course, no one wants people to see their illegal mining operations inside Huascarán National Park.

Lake gathers runoff and leechate from mine tailings, giving it this unnatural hue.
Lake gathers runoff and leechate from mine tailings, giving it this unnatural hue.

Aside from the physical impact on the park, including the construction of mining roads and the passing of heavy-duty trucks, there are other problems. Mining tailings, leftovers from the extraction of gold, silver, zinc, and copper, contain other toxic minerals, such as lead, which gets washed out, poisoning water supplies for thousands who live downstream. So, what are the authorities doing about it? They’re afraid to even go in there. The locals make their own law, and it’s the money that illegal mining brings that allows them to do so.

Heavy trucks hauling out precious ores.
Heavy trucks hauling out precious ores.
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