Illegally mined gold from Colombia sold in the US — report

Illegally mined gold from Colombia sold in the US — report

Illegal mine in Colombia’s Choco province. (Image from archives)

A sudden boom in illegal gold mining in Colombia is fuelling human trafficking and forced labour in and around mines loosely connected to paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and leftist guerrillas, according to Aljazeera.

In an in-depth report, the news outlet reveals that small-scale miners are being forced out at gunpoint or extorted to work for the armed groups that are taking over their operations.

Residents are caught in the crossfire. About 200,000 Colombians were driven from their homes in 2013, the latest year for which data is available, according to Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento, a Colombia-based human-rights group.

The government estimates that about 80% of all the gold produced in Colombia comes from informal operations, many considered illegal, which is creating a parallel economy that is deemed to harm the business of those who operate legally.

The sector is estimated to bring in approximately $2.5 billion a year and has now eclipsed cocaine trafficking as the main driver of violence and a source of dirty money.

READ ALSO: How illegal mining became Latin America’s new cocaine

The main difference, reports Aljazeera, is that while cocaine is delivered from supplier to consumer through underground routes, "illegal gold travels with legal documents via airfreight":

Until recently, Colombian authorities had barely investigated the commercial alchemy used to turn illegal gold into legal pesos, but now prosecutors are bringing their first major case of money laundering to trial. Goldex, once the country’s second largest gold exporter, stands accused of laundering hundreds of millions in criminal profits and exporting illegal gold from conflict zones in Colombia to the United States, most of it to two American companies: Republic Metals Corp. and Metalor Technologies USA.

In late July, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos unveiled a new plan to combat the problem. Among the fresh measures, Santos granted the Defense Ministry more powers to fight the country’s leftist rebel forces and criminal neo-paramilitary gangs, which are reportedly the ones behind the surge of illegal miners in the country.

Additionally, Santos announced a new bill to be drafted in the coming days that will increase the penalties against the criminal activity.

Colombia has also began a formalization process, which implies helping unlicensed miners “come clean” by paying taxes and filing environmental impact statements, while the government guarantees training and safety.

Despite the government’s aims to formalize all miners by 2032, a recent investigative report financed with a grant from NACLA’s Samuel Chavkin Investigative Journalism Fund, shows that so far the program has been marked by extremely slow progress, chaos, and inconsistencies.