Forests in Colombia are being ravaged by illegal mining, a criminal economy that has come to rival the drug trade for profits.
In 2015, the illegal gold trade in Colombia was worth an estimated 7 billion pesos, or about $2.4 billion, a year. Since then, the price of gold has skyrocketed, making illegal gold even more attractive to irregular armed actors of all stripes, from gangs to guerrillas. Gold is also easier to launder.
InSight Crime has teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to study the criminal activities driving deforestation, forest degradation and biodiversity loss in Colombia's Amazon and Pacific regions. The project -- titled “Transparent Governance of Natural Resources” and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) -- explores illegal mining, which is increasingly a central revenue stream for armed groups.
Also partnering on the project are Transparency for Colombia (Transparencia por Colombia), a branch of Transparency International, and the Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development (Fundación para la Conservación y el Desarrollo Sostenible – FCDS), which is focused on Colombia’s Amazon region.
To make way for illicit mining operations, massive deforestation occurs before mercury and other chemicals are used to extricate gold ore, polluting rivers and intoxicating wildlife. While profiting directly from the sale of illegal gold, criminal groups also use the trade to launder money derived from drug trafficking.
This video explores the role that established criminal organizations play in illegal mining, along with how corruption underpins the lucrative trade’s operation. It reveals the devastating impact illegal mining is having on Colombia’s forests, biodiversity and communities, and shares how such operations can be combatted.