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Peruvian Southern jungle 01: General indications

Madre de Dios and the Río Urubamba - western colonization by rubber trade - exploitation and destruction of big parts of the Peruvian Southern jungle by oil, gold and timber robbery

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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from: Dilwyn Jenkins: The rough guide to Peru; Rough Guides, New York, London, Delhi; 6th edition September 2006; www.roughguides.com

The continuous destruction of the rain forest by gold mining and oil industry

A large forest region, with a manic climate (usually searingly [very, very] hot and humid), but with sudden cold spells - friajes - [coming from the high Andes] - between June and August, due to icy winds coming down from the Andean glaciers), the southern selva region of Peru have only been systematically explored since the 1950s and were largely unknown until the twentieth century, when rubber began to leave Peru through Bolivia and Brazil, eastwards along the rivers.

Named after the broad river [Río Madre de Dios] that flows through the heart of the southern jungle, the still relatively wild department of MADRE DE DIOS, like so many remote areas of Peru, is changing rapidly. Living in one of the last places affected by the rubber boom at the turn of the twentieth century, the natives here - many of whom struggle to maintain their traditional ways of life, despite the continuing efforts of colonos and some of the less enlightened Christian missionaries - were left pretty much alone until the push for oil in the 1960s and 1970s brought roads and planes, making this now the most accessible part of the Peruvian rainforest. As the oil companies moved out, so prospectors took their place, panning for gold dust along the river banks, while agribusiness moved in to clear mahagony trees or harvest the bountiful Brazil nuts.

Today the main problems facing the Indians, here as elsewhere, are loss of territory, the merciless pollution of their rivers [with mercury by gold mining], devastating environmental destruction (caused mainly by large-scale gold-mining) and new waves of oil exploration by multinationals (p.541).

The gold damage in the Madre de Dios rain forest

Every rainy season the swollen rivers deposit a heavy layer of gold dust along their banks and those who have been quick enough to stake claims on the best stretches have made substantial fortunes. In such areas there are thousands of unregulated miners, using large front-loader earth-moving machines, destroying a large section of the forest, and doing so very quickly. Gold-lust is not a new phenomenon here - the gold-rich rivers (p.544)

have brought Andean Indians and occasional European explorers to the region for centuries. Even the Incas may well have utilized a little of the precious stuff - the Inca Emperor Tupac Yupanqui is known to have discovered the Río Madre de Dios, naming it the Amarymayo ("serpent river"). Perhaps, too, it's more than coincidental that one suggested location for the legendary city of "El Dorado" (known in southern Peru as Paititi), where the Incas hid their most valuable golden objects from the Spanish conquerors, is in the high forests close to the Río Alto Madre de Dios (p.545).

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