Illegal mining is Latin America’s new cocaine

Illegal mining is Latin America’s new cocaine

Image courtesy of Peru Support Group

Illegal mining has become the "new cocaine" of Latin America in terms of illicit trading, as countries such as Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia, are said to be obtaining higher profits from the unlicensed activity than from drug trafficking. The ecological damage is even greater.

According to Chilean newspaper El Mercurio (in Spanish), the shady business in the Amazonic jungle of Peru is already generating 15% more profits than the country’s total estimated drug trafficking. The figure is shocking, as Peru is said to already be the world’s largest exporter of cocaine.

The latest study published by Peru’s government last month, revealed that illicit gold extraction has led to violence, pollution and the destruction of parts of the country’s precious rainforest— more than 50,000 hectares so far. The figure is significantly higher than the 18,000 ha authorities estimated last year.

What it’s worse, unlawful mining has spread to surrounding countries such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia, which is intensifying the damage on the Amazon, as well in water sources, reports El Mercurio.

Terrorists in control

In Colombia the situation is even more complicated, with rebels and a new generation of drug gangs —known locally as “Bacrims”— increasingly turning to gold mining to finance their terrorist acts.

Since the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) began face-to-face peace talks in November 2012, those who live in the areas controlled by the rebels have been following the negotiations closely.

“Mining and forestry are controlled by the FARC and other criminal gangs,” said Richard Moreno, a legal adviser to an NGO that advocates social development in the Choco department, known for its large Afro-Colombian population. “If you don’t hand over extortion payments, you can’t work there.”

Devastating cost of illegal mining in the Amazon

Footage from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, showing vast swaths of destroyed rainforest in Peru's Madre de Dios region

Neighbouring Venezuela is also seeing the clandestine practice flourish, knocking efforts by the government to check deforestation.

Foreign and local groups fighting for the rights of the Venezuela's indigenous inhabitants estimate that there are as many as 4,000 illegal miners working in the country near the borders with Colombia and Brazil, according to Reuters.

Ecuador is another country that has recently begun to feel the impacts of the illicit mining. Last month vice president Jorge Glas said the venture was growing scourge, a day after a violent confrontation between soldiers and miners in the Amazonian region of the country left one civilian dead and nine soldiers wounded.

Los Angeles Times reported the clash occurred after soldiers attempted to confiscate river dredges and dislodge mostly indigenous miners in the province of Morona Santiago, about 320 km southeast of Quito, the capital. Foreign mining concerns and small-scale miners, often without permits, have ramped up gold-mining projects in the region in recent years.