HUEPETUHE, PERU – In this wildcat gold mining town in the Peruvian Amazon, the boom is over. A government crackdown on illegal mines at the end of a decade-long gold rush has shuttered restaurants, quieted the town’s muddied streets and slowed the flow of migrants from poor Andean towns seeking the jungle’s riches.
But the residents of Huepetuhe, whose town square is dominated by a golden statue of a muscular miner, see a shimmer of hope in presidential election front-runner Keiko Fujimori’s promise to decriminalize the makeshift mines at the heart of the region’s economy.
Fujimori says she will repeal laws aimed at protecting the environment that ban the use of dredges and heavy machinery by miners in rivers and wetlands. She is also offering miners cheap credit and tax exemptions while they form tax-paying businesses.
The pledge is part of Fujimori’s strategy of locking in support from key groups by promising specific reforms, helping give her a lead of more than 5 percentage points over rival Pedro Pablo Kuczynski ahead of the run-off election on Sunday.
“I’m going to vote for Keiko, but only because of that proposal,” said Ronald Vizarreta, a 29-year old clerk who buys gold directly from miners on a muddy road between Huepetuhe and the ravine where the work.
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