Colombians face food, medicine shortages as protesting miners block roads

Blockade in Colombia’s Antioquia department. (Image by Antioquia’s Governor Aníbal Gaviria Correa, Twitter.)

Up to 300,000 people in Colombia are suffering shortages of food and medicine after informal and illegal gold miners blocked roads in protest of the destruction of their machinery by authorities, ministers said on Thursday.

Small, medium and large-scale gold miners in 12 largely rural municipalities across Antioquia and Cordoba provinces protested the destruction earlier this month of nine so-called “dragons” – floating machines that suck up silt and mud from rivers in search of alluvial gold.

The machines were causing “a highly sensitive disaster to the environment and endangering the lives of the inhabitants and future inhabitants in the area, as well as the environmental sustainability of the region,” Interior Minister Alfonso Prada said in a televised address.

Roadblocks caused by the protesting miners are affecting people’s lives across Antioquia and Cordoba, Prada said, adding that they were leading to shortages of food and medical supplies, such as oxygen tanks.

“As long as the roadblocks exist, the possibility of us returning to the table is nil,” Prada said, adding that the government had sought mediation from the Catholic Church to help reach an agreement.

Illegal mining in Colombia and other countries in South America is considered an environmental disaster due to the destruction it wreaks on numerous ecosystems, including mercury contamination in rivers.

“Currently, excavators in Bajo Cauca pump out almost 30 million cubic meters of earth and dump tonnes of mercury into the Cauca river,” Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said in the press conference.

After drug trafficking, illegal mining is considered the second biggest source of financing for illegal armed groups operating in Colombia, according to security sources.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said 65% of Colombia’s alluvial gold production in 2021 was illegal.

(By Oliver Griffin; Edited by Jamie Freed)


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