Let’s save the Amazon from mining and mercury

Proposals on mining for the Summit of Presidents of the Amazon


According to the 2021 Amazon Assessment Report of the Scientific Panel for the Amazon [1] , mining is a significant source of environmental impacts in the Amazon, with 45,065 mining concessions in operation or awaiting approval, of which 21,536 overlap with areas protected and indigenous lands.

While the expansion of the agricultural frontier is the main source of deforestation in the Amazon, mining is the main driver of deforestation in French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and parts of Peru and Venezuela. In Guyana, mining led to the loss of 89,000 ha of forest between 1990 and 2019, an area 18 times greater than the loss to agricultural expansion in the same period. In Suriname, 71% of deforestation is attributed to mining. 20% of the area originally occupied by the Amazon cangas in Brazil (144 km2) has been lost due to the extraction of iron ore. Between 2016 and 2020, more than 140,000 hectares of primary forest were lost in the Venezuelan Amazon. Deforestation in Venezuela was driven by illegal mining, agricultural expansion, and fires [2] .

It is estimated that there are 453 illegal mining sites in the Brazilian Amazon and more than 2,500 for the entire Amazon basin. Gold mining, which is largely illegal, has ceased to be largely artisanal and has become a semi-mechanized activity that uses expensive and large machinery, such as prospecting drills and hydraulic excavators. High concentrations of total mercury (Hg) and methylmercury (MeHg) have been documented in aquatic food webs since the 1980s. Mercury bioaccumulation causes concentrations to rise considerably in top predators such as large catfish, black caiman , otters and dolphins. Several studies report mercury concentrations in fish well above the acceptable limit defined by the World Health Organization. The consumption of fish by human communities in the Amazon causes some of the highest recorded mercury levels in the world in human hair, along with associated health problems. The Kayabi indigenous populations of the Teles Pires river, in the Brazilian Amazon, had 12.7 μg/g of mercury in their hair, while the Munduruku indigenous people of the Tapajós river, also in the Brazilian Amazon, had levels ranging from 1.4 and 23.9 μg/g. (Dórea et al. 2005; Basta et al. 2021). Similar studies were carried out in populations of the Caquetá river basin in the Colombian Amazon, with 79% of individuals with mercury levels in their hair greater than 10μg/g (Olivero-Verbel 2016). A similar situation has been verified in the indigenous peoples of northern La Paz, Bolivia (CPILAP 2022). The internationally recommended limit for mercury concentration in hair ranges from 1 to 2 μg/g (WHO 1990). In Venezuela,

MeHg reaches high levels in both maternal and fetal circulation, with the potential to cause irreversible damage to child development, including decreased intellectual and motor capacity. Hg can also affect the health of adults, since it affects the nervous, digestive, renal and cardiovascular systems. Central nervous system effects include depression and extreme irritability; hallucinations and memory loss; tremors affecting the hands, head, lips, and tongue; blindness, retinopathy and optic neuropathy; hearing loss; and a reduced sense of smell. Minamata disease was recently confirmed in Amazonian communities, as a result of exposure to high levels of MeHg, with symptoms including tremors, insomnia, anxiety,

Since the signing of the Minamata Convention, several countries have reduced the sale of mercury. Brazil, Peru and Colombia reported a sharp drop in imports. It was in this scenario that Bolivia emerged as the world’s largest mercury importer, ignoring treaty objectives to reduce its use and taking advantage of loopholes in the treaty that allow continued imports and use of mercury in small mining operations [3 ] . In 2020 Bolivia was the world’s leading importer of mercury with a 24.6% global share and 165 imported tons dedicated mainly to illegal gold mining and smuggling to Peru, Brazil and Colombia.

Between 2017 and 2021, the import of mercury to Bolivia almost doubled from Mexico with the participation of Peruvian businessmen who registered their companies in La Paz. Between 2014 and 2022 Bolivia imported more than 1,100 tons of mercury, 55.5% was shipped from Mexico and the remaining 44.5% from Russia, India, Vietnam, Tajikistan and other countries. Of the total imports made by Bolivia since 2014, 70% correspond precisely to the years after the Minamata Convention came into force [4] . It is estimated that approximately half of imported mercury has been sent to illegal mining operations in Peru and Brazil.

Legal and illegal mining activities are unleashing ethnocide and ecocide as can be seen from their severe impact on the indigenous Yanomami peoples in Brazil and the Madre de Dios river basin in Peru.



a) The Amazon Cooperation Treaty signed by 8 of the 9 Amazon countries in 1978 does not explicitly mention mining, but it does include it in its first article when it states as the objective of cooperation: «the preservation of the environment and the conservation and rational use of the natural resources of those territories”.

b) In the declarations of the three meetings of presidents of the Amazon (1989, 1992 and 2009) there is not a single mention of mining. In the eleven meetings of the ACTO (Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization) foreign ministers, we only found three very brief mentions of mining (2000, 2005 and 2011) [5 ] . In the ACTO Amazon Cooperation Council, which is made up of high authorities from the 8 countries that comprise it, there is only one mention in the documents of its XVI meeting to manage financing for an «Illegal Mining Working Group» of which there is no There is history of its operation.

c) The ACTO Strategic Agenda for the 2010-2018 period does not include mining as a topic or subtopic, and only mentions it once in the water resources subtopic: «Promote common discussion spaces to establish control policies of mining activities that generate water pollution”.


d) With the exception of Venezuela, which only signed the Minamata Convention, all ACTO countries have ratified said international instrument on mercury that entered into force in 2017. The Minamata Convention establishes the obligation of the signatory States to reduce  imports and use of mercury, as well as maintaining an adequate record of the traceability of this metal, its treatment, commercialization, final disposal, and identification of the places with the greatest impacts. However, countries like Bolivia, far from reducing the import of mercury, have substantially increased its use since 2017, and have not complied with their international obligation to present a National Action Plan to reduce the import and use of mercury. Every three years, the countries that declare they have small-scale artisanal mining must submit an evaluation of the progress and compliance with their National Action Plan.


e) The Andean Community (CAN), which is a supranational body unlike ACTO, and of which four Amazonian countries are part, approved Decision 774 in 2012, which approves the «Andean Policy to Fight Illegal Mining» for:

1)  Comprehensive, cooperative, and coordinated confrontation with illegal mining and related activities , which threaten security, the economy, natural resources, the environment, and human health;

2) Optimize the  control and surveillance of the import, export, transport, processing, commercialization and any other type of transaction, at the Andean level and with third countries, of minerals and their products from illegal mining, as well as machinery, equipment , inputs  [such as mercury]  and hydrocarbons  that can be used in it; and,

3) Develop  cooperation actions that contribute to mining formalization, encourage social and environmental responsibility, and promote the use of efficient methods and technologies for the rational use of natural resources and environmental sustainability …

f) The Andean Policy to Fight Illegal Mining determines that member countries undertake cooperative actions to “1)  Combat money laundering and related crimes  from illegal mining; 2)  Strengthen control mechanisms and traceability  of machinery, hydrocarbons, equipment and inputs used in mining, as well as the final product thereof; 3)  Plan and execute operations against illegal mining through coordinated actions in border areas ; 4) Collaborate in the  identification and persecution of those who participate in devices or structures organized outside the law to carry out illegal mining  and related crimes; 5) Restore, remedy or rehabilitate transboundary ecosystems  affected by illegal mining; 6) Implement  programs, projects and actions to combat illegal mining  and social economic development in the Border Integration Zones; 7) Exchange experiences on processes for the formalization or regularization of small-scale, artisanal or traditional mining and on the fight against illegal mining; and, 8) Other matters that may be decided…”. This decision authorizes the member countries to » seize and seize, immobilize, destroy, demolish, render useless and neutralize, the goods, machinery, equipment and inputs used in illegal mining,  for which the Governments will regulate…».

g) In 2014, the CAN created the  Andean Ad-Hoc Committee on Illegal Mining (CAMI)  through Decision 797, and in 2019 it adopted Decision 844 creating the “ Andean Observatory in charge of managing Official Information on Mercury”. Up to 2022, six CAMI meetings were held, and in 2022 the first Observatory report was published, covering the first semester of 2021. Ecuador has prohibited the use of mercury in mining since 2015 and in Colombia since 2018. Peru has regulations for the elaboration of a Mercury Management and/or Reduction Plan is not effective, and Bolivia does not have specific regulations for the control and reduction of mercury. According to the first and only report of the Observatory, only Colombia and Peru have made seizures of mercury for a total of 369 kg.


h) The Leticia Pact only mentions illegal mining in a subsidiary way in its fifth term: “Specify initiatives for restoration, rehabilitation and accelerated reforestation in areas degraded by forest fires and illegal activities, including the illegal extraction of minerals with a view  to  the impact mitigation, and recovery of species and functionality of ecosystems.


a) Towards an Amazon free of mining. [6]  Just as it is not possible to face the climate crisis without moving away from fossil fuels, it is not possible to save the Amazon and its peoples without a transition away from mining. Legal, illegal, large-scale and small-scale mining contribute to the point of no return in the Amazon, and therefore the preparation and implementation of a  transition plan for an Amazon free of mining is urgent .

b) The  transition plan towards an Amazon free of mining  must include:

  • Prohibition of alluvial mining in the entire Amazon basin (recommendation of the Scientific Panel of the Amazon).
  • Prohibition and creation of control mechanisms against the expansion of all mining activities in protected areas and indigenous territories.
  • Definition and execution of actions for the reduction and elimination in five years of illegal mining.
  • Establishment of effective mechanisms for the control and traceability of machinery, hydrocarbons, equipment, mercury, and supplies used in mining (CAN 774).
  • Planning and execution of operations against illegal mining through coordinated actions in border areas (CAN 774).
  • Identification and persecution of those who participate in apparatuses or structures organized outside the law to carry out illegal mining and related crimes (CAN 774).
  • Implementation of programs, projects and actions to combat illegal mining and social economic development in the Border Integration Zones (CAN 774).
  • Closure of the markets for illegal products such as mercury and gold that are traded illegally (recommendation of the Amazon Scientific Panel).
  • Adoption and execution of measures to combat money laundering and related crimes from illegal mining (CAN 774).
  • Carrying out financial evaluations/audits of national and foreign individuals and companies that participate in illegal mining networks.
  • Restoration, remediation or rehabilitation of transboundary ecosystems affected by illegal mining (CAN 774).
  • Comprehensive and mid-term environmental impact assessments of the legal activities of mining companies, by independent entities, to reinforce socio-environmental mitigation plans, and establish the terms of their continuity and future closure.
  • Execution of plans for the remediation of impacts on human health and the environment caused by mining.
  • Study and development of community economic alternatives as transition proposals to overcome the colonial narrative of mining as an essential activity.

c) Establish as a goal the progressive reduction of imports and use of mercury in gold mining until its total elimination by 2027, promoting mercury-free mining practices and promoting training and technology transfer processes that contribute to the transition towards a Amazon free of mining and mercury.

d) Actions against illegal mining must be comprehensive in nature and include initiatives to improve health, education, housing, communication, the fight against human trafficking and smuggling, and the defense of human rights and rights. rights of nature. The development, promotion and promotion of community-based, agroforestry, eco-tourism, artisanal and other economic alternatives should be a central component of ACTO’s Strategic Agenda against mining.

e) Establish at the ACTO level a special window for the presentation of complaints by people, communities and social organizations in the Amazon against abuses and violations of human rights, the rights of nature and the rights of defenders committed for legal or illegal mining ventures, so that they may be investigated, prosecuted and sanctioned within the framework of the legal system of each country.

f) Promote an energy transition that does not come at the cost of expanding mining in the Amazon and generating new sacrifice zones in this biome.

g)  Approve a Pan-Amazon Regional Comprehensive Plan for the protection of human rights against extractive, exploitation and development activities. Mineral exploitation in countries with weak institutions very often entails economic, political, social and institutionally fragile problems such as the Amazon.

h) Form the  Amazon Mining Committee  to collect, expand, strengthen and above all make effective the experience of the Andean Ad-Hoc Committee on Illegal Mining for the implementation of the Transition Plan towards an Amazon free of mining and compliance with the mandates contained in the preceding paragraphs. The Amazon Mining Committee will be made up of senior representatives of the state and indigenous peoples, civil society and academia from the 9 Amazonian countries, and will carry out semi-annual public accountability reports.

[1]  https://www.laamazoniaquequeremos.org/spa_publication/informe-de-evaluacion-de-amazonia-2021/

[2]  https://maaproject.org/2022/deforestacion-venezuela/ )

[3]  https://news.mongabay.com/2022/11/mercury-rising-why-bolivia-remains-south-americas-hub-for-the-toxic-trade/

[4]  https://ojo-publico.com/especiales/ruta-clandestina-del-mercurio-entre-peru-y-bolivia-para-la-mineria-ilegal/

[5] The declaration of the VI Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (TCA) of the year 2000 states «their decision to promote, within the framework of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty, initiatives aimed at solving problems, among others, illicit crops , drug trafficking, indiscriminate felling of forests, biopiracy and illegal mining”. The IX Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States of the Organization of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (OTCA) in 2005 decided to «adopt measures that contribute to control and mitigate illegal practices, such as forest fires, illegal mining activities , mainly gold…» And the XI Meeting of Foreign Ministers of 2011,

[6]  https://territorioslivres.org/

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