The Colombian Navy continues its offensive against illegal mining throughout the national territory, reaffirming its commitment to preserving the nation’s resources and curbing the actions of transnational criminal organizations. As such, in late May, through a joint operation with the Army and the National Police, Navy units dealt a heavy blow to a subgroup of the National Liberation Army (ELN), which engaged in the illegal exploitation of mining deposits on the Atrato river, close to the municipality of Lloró, Chocó department.
During the operation, authorities destroyed three excavators, some six engines, four oxygen cylinders, and eight illegal mining units, the Navy said in a statement. Authorities also seized 1,136 liters of motor oil.
The machinery, valued at some $578,000, belonged to the Manuel Hernández El Boche Front. With these actions, authorities prevented the criminal organization from receiving a monthly income of more than $44,000, the Navy reported.
“The Marine Corps, during controls on the Atrato River, seizes monthly two or three motors in canoes, in boats; that is, they send them in parts to these territories,” Brigadier General Óscar Leonel Murillo Díaz, commander of Colombian Military Forces’ General Command Joint Task Force Titán, told Diálogo. “Then they arrive and what we have to do is to locate and destroy them.”
In a landmark ruling, in 2016, the Colombian Constitutional Court granted legal rights to the Atrato River that flows through Chocó, to ensure its conservation and protection. The Chocó region, comprising more than 46,000 square kilometers on Colombia’s Pacific coast, is home to some of the most biodiverse forests on the planet, says the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on its online blog. In this area, illegal mining is the main cause of deforestation and pollution.
“When one flies over the Chocó territories in an aircraft, it hurts; it’s a cancer; they are completely destroying the territory,” Brig. Gen. Murillo said. “They fill it with mercury, and to recover those areas, it takes many years, and unfortunately these people without conscience do not understand; therefore, our duty […] is to see to it that machinery is located and destroyed.”
So far in 2022, until late May, in central Chocó department, the Public Force together with the Attorney General’s Office and the Environmental Autonomous Corporation of Chocó, Codechocó, located and destroyed 20 construction machinery and 11 dredges and draglines. Authorities also destroyed 49 illegal mining units, 27 motors, and a boat.
“We have several tributaries [of the Atrato River], but one of the tributaries is the Quito River that starts from Quibdó toward the southwest; in that Quito River we also have quite a lot of criminal mining and we carry out ongoing military operations over that sector,” Brig. Gen. Murillo said. “With that we prevent them from continuing to damage the land […], and likewise, we affect the illegal economies of both the Clan del Golfo and the ELN.”