In early December 2021, the Colombian Military Forces’ Hercules Joint Stabilization and Consolidation Task Force (FTCEC Hercules, in Spanish) dealt a blow to the finances of the Oliver Sinisterra Front, a dissident group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), by disrupting illegal mining activities that it was conducting in a rural area of Nariño department.
In coordination with the National Police, FTCEC Hercules, which brings together service members from the Colombian Army, Navy, and Air Force, located five illegal mining sites near the Magüi Payán municipality. On site, authorities neutralized five excavators valued at more than $500,000, the Military Forces’ General Command (CGFM, in Spanish) said in a statement.
This illegal gold mining yielded more than $250,000 a month to the Oliver Sinisterra Front, with an environmental impact that extended over some 8 hectares, the CGFM said. Colombia Reports, an independent media outlet based in Medellín, reported in February 2021 that the criminal group, which also engages in narcotrafficking, has the support of the Sinaloa Cartel and operates mainly in the Colombian Pacific, near the border with Ecuador.
In the days prior to the operation, the FTCEC Hercules Press Office told Diálogo, authorities carried out the necessary coordination to integrate the 150 men and women needed for a successful operation. “It was necessary to send an undercover agent […] to the Magüi Payán municipality to take images to conduct a topographic survey in the area and compile detailed information,” the force said.
FTCEC Hercules said that there are different focal points in the Nariño department for the illicit exploitation of mining sites, and these are located in the sector known as the Telembí Triangle, in the municipalities of Barbacoas, Magüi Payán, and Roberto Payán, where authorities have deployed several military operations.
In a September 2021 report, the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS), an international nongovernmental project that provides humanitarian analysis to United Nations agencies and other nongovernmental organizations, said that at least 10 armed groups that engage in narcotrafficking, illicit crop cultivation, and illegal mining are vying for control of the Telembí Triangle territories.
According to data that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) published in July 2021, 69 percent of the alluvial gold mining with machinery in Colombian territory is carried out illegally, “in scenarios conducive to the involvement of armed groups.”