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

Abstract: 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.