Colombian authorities delivered what they said was the most significant blow against illegal mining in a decade, meant to undermine a major source of funding for the nation's largest guerrilla group, the FARC.
Security forces raided 63 mines allegedly run by the nation's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told media during a press conference. The operation will cost the rebel group roughly $9 million a month in illicit proceeds, he added.
Dubbed "Operation Anostomos," over 600 police and military officials were deployed to four eastern Colombia departments, including parts of the Amazon. Among the 59 people arrested were 12 alleged FARC members and five foreign nationals.
SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profiles
Many of the illegal mines were located near the Brazilian and Venezuelan frontier, and produced materials such as gold, tungsten, and coltan.
While the FARC is known for funding its insurgency through cocaine production, Colombia's illegal mining industry is also an important source of revenue for them and other armed groups. The FARC has even reportedly expanded its illegal mining interests into Peru.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Colombian government has long struggled with containing illegal mining. On top of funding guerrillas and criminal groups, unregulated mining can be extremely harmful to the environment, and also deprives the government of taxes on natural resources. Past attempts to formalize illegal mining have met with limited success. Illicit gold mining has also been used as a way to launder hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cash, as evidenced in one recent scandal involving gold exporters.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mining
This recent operation by security forces may be a sign that Colombian authorities are once again prioritizing on-the-ground enforcement as their favored approach to battling illegal mining. The government has a particularly strong interest in consolidating control over the mining industry, as a possible peace deal with the FARC would significantly open up Colombia's mining sector to foreign firms. But as InSight Crime has reported, the elements of the FARC that depend on illegal mining to survive will likely prove very resistant to such efforts.