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Going After Gold: Peru Cracks Down on Wildcat Miners

Peruvian authorities have begun destroying illegal mining operations where 20,000 miners toil in treacherous conditions.

. Riot police stand guard at an illegal mining operation in Huepetuhe district on April 28, 2014. Some 1,500 soldiers, police and marines have begun destroying illegal gold mining machinery in Peru’s southeastern jungle region of Madre de Dios. Authorities had given the state’s thousands of illegal miners a deadline to get legal or halt operations. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. A police officer wades through the water where canoes are being destroyed as part of a government crackdown on illegal mining at the Punkiri dock on April 30. Soldiers, police and marines have begun destroying illegal gold mining machinery, including the boat engines that belong to people who the government believe transport goods related to illegal mining in the area. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. Two police officers stand guard as a miner begs them not to destroy his truck in the Huepetuhe district on April 30. Illegal mining accounts for about 20 percent of Peru's gold exports. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. Miners known as Maraqueros ready a rustic type of hydraulic jet known locally as a Chupadera, after hauling the device about 16 meters deep into a crater in La Pampa on May 5. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. Manuel Espinosa holds his four-month-old son Edward as he takes a break from mining gold in La Pampa on May 2. Most wildcat miners hail from impoverished highlands communities and barely earn subsistence wages. They chew coca leaf, a mild stimulant, to ward off the fatigue that can lead to fatal accidents. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. Men filter mud as they mine for gold in La Pampa on May 2. Miners kept working despite fears the authorities would arrive at any moment to enforce the crackdown on illegal mining Rodrigo Abd / AP

. An aerial photo shows the scale of illegal mining in Huepetuhe district on April 28. The mining uses tons of mercury and has ravaged forests and poisoned rivers. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. Women try to rescue some of their belongings after authorities blew up their illegal mining operation in Huepetuhe district on April 28. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. Prisaida, 2, sits in the shallow waters of a polluted lagoon in La Pampa on May 3 as her parents mine for gold nearby. The lagoon emerged as a result of miners bombarding the earth with jet streams of water in search of gold. The miners expect they will be soon be evicted. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. A miner holds an amalgam of mercury and gold, the fruits from working a 28-hour shift at an illegal gold mine in La Pampa on May 4. Thousands of artisanal gold miners sweat through the long shifts and endure, for a few grams of gold, the perils of collapsing earth, limb-crushing machinery and the toxic mercury used to bind gold flecks. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. A sex worker sits with potential customers at an informal bar named La Rica Miel (Delicious Honey), in La Pampa on May 3. Wildcat miners began arriving in 2008, populating shantytowns carved into the jungle along the interoceanic highway where coerced prostitution and tuberculosis now thrive. Rodrigo Abd / AP

. A rope hangs around the trunk of a tree at an illegal gold mine in La Pampa on May 3. An estimated 20,000 miners toil in this malarial expanse of denuded rainforest.

-- The Associated Press Rodrigo Abd / AP