Strikes by logging interests and illegal miners have effectively wrought havoc in Ucayali and Madre de Dios regions, bringing most economic activity to a halt over the last week. Marches, protests and road blocks have taken place in Pucallpa and Puerto Maldonado, the principal cities of both regions respectively, with the police unable (or unwilling) to do much to stop them.
The protests are responses by sectors most affected by government attempts to clamp down on illegal logging and mining in the Amazon. Both sectors have expanded largely unchecked in recent years and have brought hugely detrimental environmental impacts. However, they provide an important source of money and employment in both regions, and the local elites who benefit from these activities exercise considerable influence over local politics. As last week ended, attempts were being made in Lima to send officials to the Amazon to seek some sort of dialogue. The Prime Minister’s office, which includes a team appointed to resolve disputes, has suggested setting up a round table for dialogue.
For his part, Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal made clear that “what they are asking for is complete freedom to pursue their illegal activities and that is something we cannot allow”. He has argued that it was essential to push ahead in the struggle against illegal mining because it was affecting health and the environment in ways that are irreversible. His suggestions about deployment of troops has done little to calm things however.