In the wake of the 60-day state of emergency imposed on four districts of Madre de Dios after police and military assumed control of the epicentre of gold mining at La Pampa on 19 February (see PSG article), the authorities are proposing an integrated medium-term solution for an illicit extractive industry that involves directly or indirectly up to 35,000 people.

At the heart of the government strategy is the familiar theme of substituting agriculture for the ‘black’ economy with an initial investment of 100 million soles (projected to rise to 250 million by 2025) for cacao, banana and Brazil nuts alongside restoration and reforestation of the devastated ecosystem. SERFOR, the Forestry Service, calls for coordinated and effective administration as well as strong alliances between social, governmental and market sectors.

Carlos Herz, an anthropologist and public policy lecturer at the Catholic University in Lima (PUCP) proposes the alternative vision of making Madre de Dios Peru’s ‘Costa Rica’, with emphasis on the social value of biodiversity, via democratic and inclusive governance. Step one would involve taking on not just illegal mining but the gamut of criminality afflicting Madre de Dios in timber, drugs, fauna and flora, alongside aggression against indigenous peoples, theft of their territory, contamination of their water sources, trafficking of women for prostitution and generalised social insecurity.

Capitalising on the extent of Madre de Dios’s protected areas, comprising 45% of its territory and 30% of those of Peru as a whole, Herz’s vision hinges on tourism. He compares Peru’s 4 million annual visitors with the 2.4 million attracted by the much smaller Central American country which has become the byword for tropical biodiversity. To sustain the region’s population, he proposes agro-forestry and pastoral systems appropriate to the ecosystem. He points to the contribution in reducing the effect of greenhouse gases through the region’s reservoir of 400 million tons of carbon.

Auspicious as these plans may be, Herz recognises all too well that they confront the reality of state corruption in Madre de Dios, as well as in other ‘emergency areas’ such as the VRAEM (the valleys of the Apurímac, Ene and Mantaro rivers), that compromises public policy.