Colombia's National Police revealed that the FARC and BACRIMS control illegal mining operations in nearly half of the country, an indication of how important the industry has become for the finances of these armed groups.
According to the police, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), along with illegal armed groups (BACRIMS -"bandas criminales") such as the Urabeños and Rastrojos, either extort from or have direct control over mines in 489 out of Colombia's 1,119 municipalities.
President Juan Manuel Santos said a regional initiative is needed to reduce the growing involvement of criminal groups in mining operations. This sentiment, he added, is shared by the governments of Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil, who have all expressed their concerns over the extent of unlicensed mining in the region.
InSight Crime Analysis
As InSight Crime has previously noted, one of the government's biggest tasks in combating the relationship between criminal groups and unlicensed mines is developing a strategy that addresses the various forms in which the groups extract profits. These are by no means uniform. For example, in the municipality of Anori, Antioquia, the FARC's 36th Front charges 3 million pesos (about $1,600) for each backhoe which enters the area, and then a further 1 million pesos ($530) per month for "upkeep." In other parts of the country, the BACRIMS oversee all activity in the mines they control, taxing the material produced rather than extorting the miners' equipment.
Currently in the midst of a national mining boom that is helping drive Colombia's economic growth, the Santos administration is wary about sending the right message to potential investors in the industry. The government has already set up a prosecutor's office designed to deal solely with environmental crime.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the new office's remit will include investigating illegal mining. There is also the question of whether the goverment will start treating unlicensed mining as a legal transgression as serious as drug trafficking, as urged by the energy and mining minister.