Looking at the outline of conflicts over mining in South America, you might be forgiven for flashing on 1536. Outside forces have sailed into the region looking for gold and other precious metals. In the process, they’re poisoning rivers, using up local water supplies and sometimes killing people who get in their way.

In Peru, President Ollanta Humala has taken a step to curb the destruction, sending a bill to Congress that would give the nation’s environmental ministry more power over the creation of new mines. The previous system was a classic fox-henhouse scenario: A mining ministry was responsible for both promoting investment in the industry and handling environmental impact studies.

As the prices of commodities, and gold in particular, have risen in recent years, the mining industry has boomed in Peru and other nearby countries. But critics say the environmental impacts have been dramatic and local communities hurt by the mines have seen little financial reward.

The most dramatic conflict in Peru has been over the Minas Conga gold and copper mining project by Colorado-based Newmont Mining Corp. After months of huge public protests, the government has curtailed plans for those mines, which critics said would use up water that the Yanacocha region depends on. Newmont has scaled back its operations in the region and now says mining there may start in 2017 rather than 2014, as originally planned.

Nonetheless, market watchers remain bullish on Peru’s mining industry.

Conflicts over mining are also rocking other Latin American nations. Last month, gold miners in Venezuela apparently killed as many as 80 people from the Yanomami indigenous group, which had complained about miners encroaching on their lands. In Colombia, paramilitary groups have added mining to their portfolio along with drug trafficking, and thousands of children may be working in the gold mines in that country.

Image: Photo of gold mine in Yanacocha. Credit: Euyasik/Wikimedia Commons