(Changes date of deadline to April 19 from April 20)
By Lucas Iberico Lozada
LIMA, March 27 (Reuters) - Peru will not postpone a deadline for wildcat gold miners to legalize their businesses despite ongoing violent protests in Lima and key mining provinces, the minister of energy and mines said on Thursday.
Last year the government said the country’s more than 100,000 small-scale miners must agree to secure proper work permits and register with tax authorities by April 19.
If the miners do not sign the agreement, they will face arrest and imprisonment.
Thousands of miners from seven important mining regions started an indefinite protest last week, demanding the government push back the April 19 deadline.
President Ollanta Humala’s government extended the deadline twice in the past two years, but said miners have had plenty of time and cannot delay the process anymore.
“The government is firm in our decision,” Energy and Mines Minister Eleodoro Mayorga told reporters on Thursday.
Historically high gold prices over the past decade led hundreds of thousands of Peruvians to migrate to mineral-rich areas throughout the Andean nation of 30 million, including the Amazon basin region of Madre de Dios.
Illegal mining has been accompanied by a host of social ills, from widespread mercury exposure to sex trafficking.
Illegal mining makes up much of the roughly 20-percent gap between official production and export figures for gold in the world’s sixth-largest gold producer, according to analysts.
Protesters in Lima said the government’s ultimate goal is to keep small-scale miners from getting a piece of Peru’s vast mineral wealth.
“The government says ‘formalize,’ and what happens when you do? They close your mine,” said Manuel Reinoso Rivas, a leader with an informal miners union.
Clashes with the police in the capital and in provinces led to over twenty arrests on Wednesday.
Mayorga said some 70,000 wildcatters have signed a pledge to begin the formalization process. (Reporting By Lucas Iberico Lozada; Editing by Alden Bentley)