Colombian Armed Forces Fight Illegal Gold Mining

Colombian authorities carried out two joint interagency operations along Colombia’s Pacific coast, dealing a blow to armed groups’ finances.
Myriam Ortega/Diálogo | 28 August 2018

Transnational Threats

Colombian authorities found and destroyed equipment used for the illegal extraction of minerals in La Brea Gorge, Valle del Cauca. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

The Colombian Armed Forces dealt two blows to illegal gold mining along Colombia’s South Pacific coast in June and July 2018. Authorities hindered operations of the Clan del Golfo in the Valle del Cauca department, and of the National Liberation Army in the Cauca department.

“Illegal mining not only affects the regional economy, but also the environment, [like] riverbeds, and pollutes resources,” Colombian Navy Vice Admiral Orlando Romero Reyes, commander of the Pacific Naval Force, told Diálogo. “Areas of Valle del Cauca are rich in minerals.”

On both occasions, the Navy, Army, andAir Force (FAC), the National Police, and the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, took part in the joint interagency operations. Among other actions, authorities destroyed equipment used to extract gold illegally.

La Brea Gorge

On June 24th, Colombian authorities seized and destroyed 10 dredges, 10 engines, and 10 motor pumps found in La Brea Gorge, department of Valle del Cauca in southeastern Colombia. The equipment, thought to belong to Clan del Golfo and used for illegal gold mining, was valued at more than $243,000, according to the Navy.

“In La Brea, illegal groups pressure rural communities to be able to use the equipment in the area, as criminals single out locations where there is artisan mining,” Vice Adm. Romero said. “Often, the only job source is working with these dredges, and sometimes the community does not report incidents.”  

Miners use toxic substances such as cyanide, mercury, and sulfuric acid to separate gold from other metals. Irresponsible chemical handling in illegal mining causes water and subsoil pollution, affecting plants, animals, and crops.

Colombian authorities destroyed and burned seven backhoes and 11 diesel engines in the López de Micay River operation. (Photo: Colombian Navy)

“The paradox in these areas so rich in natural resources, such as gold, are the harmful effects brought on by criminal gangs,” said Vice Adm. Romero. “Rivers are contaminated, courses altered, and poverty increases. People are also threatened if they don’t obey criminals’ instructions.”

The devastating effects of illegal mining stress the importance to keep up the fight against criminal organizations. “We combat the way these communities subsist, because they do it illegally. This is our duty, not only for us, but also for the environment, and for our children and grandchildren,” said Colombian Navy First Sergeant Alejandro Restrepo, commander of the Second Marine Corps Brigade’s Intelligence Department.

López de Micay

On July 22nd, an interagency unit found and destroyed seven backhoes and 11 diesel engines in López de Micay River, in the northeastern Cauca department. Criminals used the equipment to extract minerals, a $104,000 monthly profit, according to the Navy. The $1.3 million-equipment belonged to the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) armed group.

The Colombian Army, Navy, and FAC exchanged and analyzed intelligence since 2017 to successfully conduct the operation. According to the Navy, the information helped determine that an air assault in four target points, where machines were located, was necessary.

“Workers fought back during the López de Micay operation and attacked troops with the machines,” 1st Sgt. Restrepo told Diálogo. “We destroyed the machines, because it’s an illegal activity.”

Two hundred members from assault units of the Colombian Marine Corps and Army carried out the joint interagency operation. FAC aircraft also participated, as well as elements from the Judiciary Police and the Office of the Attorney General, according to the Colombian Navy.

The gold mining benefited the ELN’s José María Becerra Front, which extorted miners. “Many structures turned to funding through illegal mining,” 1st. Sgt. Restrepo said. “Illegal mining is more profitable than narcotrafficking; a kilogram of gold is worth more than $35,000, while 1 kg of cocaine is worth $25,000,” Vice Adm. Romero added. “Each machine produces about 1 kg of gold per month.”

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