Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos presented Friday a package of measures, including a proposed bill before congress, aimed to making illegal mining a crime punished by the country’s Penal Code.
Apart from the bill, Colombia’s government will issue two executive decrees aimed at defining the concept of illegal mining.
The first decree, already signed, will allow authorities to destroy confiscated mining equipment, while the second places import restrictions on extraction and processing technology.
The bill to go before the legislature aims to formally criminalize the activities.
"One of the difficulties we have had is that the offense is poorly categorized. Nowadays all we can do with illegal miners is punish them for causing serious harm to the environment,” explained Santos.
According to Santos, illicit mining is fast becoming a central resource for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), even overtaking coca production in some provinces.
"Illegal mining has become the fuel of much of this county’s violence, feeding the FARC, the ELN and other criminal gangs," he told the Spanish language news agency EFE.
A study published in September by Insight Crime, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the Americas, shows that illegal gold mining has overtaken coca production as the main source of income for armed groups in eight of Colombia’s 32 provinces.
A recent story run by El Colombiano supports this claim, finding that in the province of Antioquia, rebels charge the equivalent of between $1,600 and $2,750 for each piece of mining equipment that illegal ventures bring into their areas of control.
The article says the groups also charge for gasoline and demand a 10% cut of all profits.
While Colombia has taken steps towards boosting its mining industry by making it easier for companies to acquire legal permits, there are still at least 6,000 mines in the country currently considered illegal.
Despite this problem, the country is one of Latin America’s fastest growing markets and, according to the World Bank, the most secure country in the region in which to do business.
In the past year, investors, mining companies and explorers alike have been focusing on the South American country and reasons for this abound.
Colombia’s economy, which is Latin America’s fifth largest, has grown four times as rapidly as Canada’s in recent years, with foreign investment quadrupling between 2002 and 2008.