HomeNewsBriefColombia’s Illegal Mining Crackdown May be Too Little, Too Late
BRIEF

Colombia's Illegal Mining Crackdown May be Too Little, Too Late

COLOMBIA / 13 JAN 2015 BY JAMES BARGENT EN

Colombia is preparing a series of new legal reforms to tackle illegal gold mining, after seeing seizures of illegal gold increase by over 6,600 percent last year. However, with falling gold prices and alluvial deposits likely dwindling, are these belated efforts merely targeting a trade already in decline?

According to the Colombian Ministry of Defense, authorities seized 739 kilos of illegal gold in 2014, compared to just 11 kilos in 2013, reported El Tiempo. Just four years ago, in 2010, the authorities seized no gold at all.

An unnamed official source cited by El Tiempo said they estimated criminal networks ended up selling eight tons of gold last year, meaning the seizures accounted for just over nine percent of their operations.

The Ministry also reported that the Colombian military confiscated 542 items of mining equipment, among them bulldozers, excavators and backhoes, 108 of which were destroyed. In addition, 1,757 people were arrested in connection with illegal mining and 655 mines were closed down.

The Ministry of Defense also announced the coming year will see legal reforms designed to facilitate efforts to clamp down on the trade. Vice Minister Jorge Enrique Bedoya told news agency Colprensa the new measures would target every link in the illegal mining chain, including the mines themselves as well as the transport and sale of gold and the supply of mining equipment.

InSight Crime Analysis

The last decade has seen a staggering boom in illegal gold mining to the extent that in some regions it has eclipsed the cocaine trade as the leading source of criminal income.

Guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and criminal networks like the Urabeños have cashed in on the boom, running their own mining operations and charging miners fees to operate in their territory.

For years, the Colombian government has remained several steps behind illegal mining operations, lacking the resources, the know-how, and the legal framework to get a grip on the problem.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

This appears to finally be changing. The new legal reforms follow previous measures, including the establishment of special police units and the passing of a decree that allowed security forces to destroy equipment used for illegal mining.

However, the authorities may well be focusing their attentions on a criminal industry that's already in a natural decline. The illegal gold boom was fuelled by record global gold prices, but these have recently been falling rapidly, drastically reducing the profits on offer.

Additionally, most illegal mining operations lack the technology needed to mine deep-lying veins of gold, and are limited to alluvial deposits and gold found relatively close to the surface. Given the accelerated rate with which illegal miners have been collecting these easily accessible deposits, it is likely that they will soon become ever scarcer. Thus, the illegal gold mining trade may be entering a period of diminishing returns and general decline, regardless of whatever the government does now.

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

CHINA AND CRIME / 14 MAY 2021

When hundreds of skinned donkeys appeared on Colombia’s northern coast without explanation, locals -- and later authorities -- started asking…

COLOMBIA / 19 NOV 2013

Three years ago, Buritica was a sleepy farming village tucked away in the mountains of Antioquia in northwest Colombia. Now,…

COLOMBIA / 12 OCT 2018

The seizure of more than 7 metric tons of drugs from users in nine days in Colombia after a decree…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…

THE ORGANIZATION

Exploring Climate Change and Organized Crime

10 SEP 2021

In July, InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley moderated a panel for the Climate Reality Project's regional series of workshops for young climate activists in the Americas. The week-long event…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gearing Up a New Class of Interns

3 SEP 2021

InSight Crime is readying its newest class of interns – from universities in Europe and the Americas – to begin investigative work on a number of high-impact projects. For the…

THE ORGANIZATION

Tracking Environmental Crime in the Amazon

27 AUG 2021

Next week, InSight Crime launches an investigation – conducted with Brazilian think-tank the Igarapé Institute – on the sophisticated organized crime structures and armed groups that…