State Responses to the Gold Rush in the Andes (2004–2018): The Politics of State Action (and Inaction)

Viviana Baraybar Hidalgo and Eduardo Dargent explore the different state responses in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru to the gold rush that hit the Andean countries in 2004. Paying particular attention to the initial inaction of the Bolivian state, they explore how forbearance may be the most flexible position from which states can act. 



Despite many similarities, the gold rush that hit the Andean countries in 2004 elicited different state responses in Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Initially, there was a lack of enforcement of regulations towards informal mining, but eventually Colombia (2009) and later Peru (2011) enforced regulations with mixed results. Bolivia, on the other hand, has not enforced such regulations. At first, this may appear to be a matter of state capacity; however, a closer look uncovers different motivations behind these state actions (and inaction). We propose that the nature of social actors (or the lack of social actors) who profited from the gold boom, along with international and domestic pressures, are a crucial determinant of these different government responses. We explore this proposal through an analysis of the cases before and during the gold rush using a mix of archival research and interviews with key government actors. These findings allow us to distinguish empirically between forms of state inaction—standoff and forbearance—with distinct political consequences.

From 2004 onwards, mineral prices rose to record highs, providing Latin American states with a windfall in resources. This commodity boom triggered a gold rush in several countries. In 2012, gold cost US$ 1669 per ounce, 360% more than in 2004, when the boom began.Although the price has since fallen, it remains above US$ 1000 and still provides strong incentive for citizens to become small miners, oftentimes in an informal capacity. Latin American countries have a long history of cooperation and conflict with artisanal gold miners, with state governance strategies ranging from formalization to penalization. Artisanal gold miners are usually located in geographical areas with limited state presence, making it difficult for governments to regulate extraction and partly explaining the high degree of informality in these activities. However, gold rushes make regulations even more difficult to enforce. The recent boom precipitated informal gold mining, entitlement conflicts, forced labor, human trafficking, transnational exporting mafias, and money laundering, among other unlawful or transgressional activities.

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