FEATURE-Peru crackdown on illegal gold leads to new smuggling routes
By Mitra Taj
LIMA Nov 25 (Reuters) - A crackdown on illegal gold mining in Peru has spawned new smuggling routes through its porous border with Bolivia with some gangs using human mules, armored cars and light aircraft to evade capture.
The gold is ghosted across jungles, rainforest and Lake Titicaca on the mountainous border, and is then sold to dealers who process the precious metal for export out of Bolivia's capital La Paz, Peruvian officials say.
Bolivia, a relatively small gold producer which has commissioned no new large mines in 2014, officially exported 24 tonnes of gold between January and August, data from Bolivia's statistics agency shows.
That is six times the amount of gold Bolivia's miners produced in the first seven months of 2014 and more than three times the total amount it exported in all of 2013, illustrating how Peruvian gold is being diverted.
Nearly all of Bolivia's exported gold was shipped to the United States, government data shows.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala launched a clampdown late last year to tackle a decade-long boom in wildcat gold mining that has destroyed swathes of Peru's Amazon forest and laced its rivers with mercury.
But the proliferation of smugglers' routes into Bolivia shows how difficult it is to eradicate illegal mining without better coordination across frontiers.
"They move much faster than we do," said Peruvian customs official Gustavo Romero who is investigating the illicit trade. "We close one door and they've already opened another." Continuación...