The Misfortune of Gold in Colombia

The Misfortune of Gold in Colombia

By Myriam Ortega/Diálogo
August 29, 2017

Excelente la información, muy estructurada y soportada, de tal forma que denota claramente la importante labor de la Fuerza Pública en su lucha contra la minería ilegal que tanto daño causa en las personas y en el ambiente, más tratándose de la a explotación ilegal de oro por el uso indebido del mercurio. In coordinated operations between the Colombian Navy (by way of its Southern Naval Force), Army, Air Force, and the Colombian National Police’s Environmental and Ecological Protection Group, four homemade dredgers used for illegal gold mining were seized in the department of Guaviare. The dredges ensured a monthly gold production of $40,000. The operation, which took place in July, resulted in the capture of eight people red-handed. Simultaneously, in the areas surrounding Amacayacú National Park, above the Cothué River, in the department of Amazonas, four more dredgers that had produced $122,000 per month in illegal gold were rendered unusable. Among other tools found were 30 black sieving mats, six diving suits, and two gold smelters. Key to success “The Air Force is a key part of it, with its reconnaissance flights and the photographs they take, which were the first on which we based our planning,” Brigadier General Adolfo León Hernández Martínez, the commander of the Colombian Army’s 27th Jungle Brigade, told Diálogo. “The Southern Naval Force and Army forces jointly intervened with help from the Marine Corps, and arrived at the sites where the dredgers were.” To coordinate the operation, other entities attended meetings called “bubbles,” in which institutions with different resources and capacities work towards the common goal of fighting environmental crime. This strategy emerged more than 10 years ago with the creation of joint commands. “When we want to fight crime and attack a problem that’s become rather critical, what we do is form a bubble in which the different institutions focus on that aspect, on that crime,” Brig. Gen. Hernández noted. “All of us bring to the table everything we’ve got to fight that crime.” Coca and illegal gold are the products of a criminal network that benefit only large criminal structures. Growers and miners alike are victims of extortion, and they are the ones who earn the least from this enterprise. “The illegal value of the enterprise [illegal gold mining] moves a lot of money, but most of it ends up in the criminal organizations that are getting rich off of it,” Brig. Gen. Hernández indicated. “Organizations such as the Gulf Clan, or all the other organized armed groups whose tentacles reach into these areas, are involved in this.” According to a report by the Colombian Army’s Special Brigade against Illegal Mining, organized crime’s earnings come at a very high environmental and social cost. “Mineral exploration and extraction, done without compliance with legal requirements, has become one of the main sources of financing for illegal armed groups and criminal organizations.” Illegal gold’s footprint Colonel Ricardo Alberto Suárez Rátiva, the commander of the 3rd Marine Corps Brigade, explained to Diálogo that amateur miners use mercury in their mining process. “To get one gram of gold, the ratio is more or less two grams of mercury, it’s two to one. And a special connotation is that Colombia does not produce mercury. However, the use of that metallic chemical element in gold mining represents a hazard not only to those who handle it. “The mercury issue can manifest as cancer, or as deformities in babies and sterility in men,” Col. Suárez added. “It can also affect people’s nervous system.” The populations where illegal mining is carried out are therefore more vulnerable to illness and deformities, among other things. In addition to the illegal and/or toxic homemade methods used, illegal gold mining carries environmental costs. According to the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, the risk of erosion, the release of toxins, watershed degradation, and the displacement of fauna are all a result of it. Scope Throughout 2017, the Southern Naval Force has destroyed 25 dredgers used for illegal resource mining, a significant achievement in countering this activity. “We’ve cleaned up illegal mining and mining sites along approximately 600 kilometers of river,” Col. Suárez stated. “But we’re still continuing these actions against criminal organizations and locating the structures that are devoted to this activity.” “At this time, with FARC terrorists no longer present in these Amazon territories, we’re directing all of the military capacities we’ve developed at environmental crimes,” Brig. Gen. Hernández added. “And those crimes include illegal mining and mining sites.”
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