HomeNewsBriefArrest Shows Overlap of Legal, Illegal Mining in Colombia
BRIEF

Arrest Shows Overlap of Legal, Illegal Mining in Colombia

COLOMBIA / 16 JUN 2016 BY SEAN TJADEN EN

The arrest of a Brazilian national who is both a registered miner in Colombia and the alleged ringleader of an illegal mining structure illustrates the nebulous division separating the country's legal and illegal mining sectors. 

Colombia's National Police arrested José Antonio Cavalcante, one of two Brazilians authorities say ran an illegal mining network in the northwest department of Chocó. Nine other suspects were arrested in the sting.  

The group that authorities have dubbed "The Dragons" allegedly used 40 dredges to conduct gold mining operations along the Quito River in Chocó. Police Gen. Jorge Rodríguez Peralta told El Tiempo that the operations produced roughly 20 kilos of gold per week with a market value of approximately $672,000.

Authorities say the group's illegal mining caused significant environmental damage. Up to 37 children have reportedly died in the area due to consuming water contaminated by mercury, a harmful by-product of illegal mining.

According to police, illegal armed groups -- including the Urabeños and the National Liberation Army (Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional - ELN) -- provided Cavalcante’s network with armed protection in exchange for a cut of the mining profits.

The government reported on April 26 that it had carried out almost 300 operations against illegal mining in the first four months of 2016 and had destroyed or confiscated more than 100 pieces of heavy equipment used for illegal mining, according to El Tiempo.

InSight Crime Analysis

Cavalcante embodies the tangled nature of Colombia's legal and illegal mining sectors. He is hardly an unknown figure in the illegal mining world; he was arrested in 2014 on similar charges. In 2012, the head of a sustainable development organization in Chocó was sanctioned for soliciting bribes from Cavalcante, who had been fined for illegal mining on the Quito River.

Despite Cavalcante's notoriety, he is also the legal representative of a registered gold mining company in Colombia. That the representative of an official mining company can allegedly double as a serial, flagrant violator of mining laws indicates a high degree of crossover between the illegal and legal mining sectors.

It also reflects how poorly the government has regulated this industry. Criminal groups take advantage of this lack of oversight by charging illegal miners extortion fees, which are known locally as "vaccinations." 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mining

This legal gray area is not just limited to Colombia's gold mining sector. For decades now, authorities have struggled to rein in the influence of armed groups and criminal actors over the lucrative emerald industry. The one-time "Emerald Czar," Victor Carranza, even built his own paramilitary organization to protect his business empire. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 8 FEB 2022

A move by the ELN to expand its control along the banks of the Orinoco River in Venezuela appears to…

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation…

AUC / 13 JAN 2012

Retired General Mario Montoya, former head of the Colombian Army, has denied having any links to the AUC, despite being…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…

THE ORGANIZATION

Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…