Violence in Colombia’s main gold mining region escalated after Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez declared “total war” on illegal mining on March 1.
The announcement almost immediately triggered a miners’ strike in Antioquia that, according to authorities, has been promoted by paramilitary organization AGC.
At least six people, including two minors, were injured by bullets during an attack on a police station in the town of Caceres on Friday.
Authorities have failed to report on a total number of victims of violence since the beginning of the .
Authorities fail to de-escalate situation
In response to Velasquez’s declaration of war, miners from the northeast of the gold-rich province initially blocked the road between Colombia’s gold capital, Medellin, and the Caribbean coast.
In response, Governor Anibal Gaviria issued a curfew for the Northeast Antioquia and Bajo Cauca regions, claiming last week that “criminal groups” had all but shut down the region.
The governor’s comments apparently escalated the situation even further and were followed by riots in Caceres on Friday and Taraza on Saturday and Sunday.
Reportan desde la zona que siguen intentando tomarse la estación de Policía de Jardín de Tamaná en Cáceres pic.twitter.com/ytqHGtwf2h
— Denuncias Antioquia (@DenunciasAntio2) March 11, 2023
Comandos de las Fuerzas Especiales del @COL_EJERCITO, realizaron labores de control del fuego en las instalaciones del peaje de Tarazá, #Antioquia, con el fin de permitir el paso de una ambulancia que moviliza a un paciente que requiere atención médica urgente.#ProtegemosLaVida pic.twitter.com/9Kt6OvwlsK
— Fuerzas Militares de Colombia (@FuerzasMilCol) March 13, 2023
From protests to infrastructure attacks
Attacks against infrastructure left the water supply to Taraza and a toll booth on the road connecting Medellin to the Caribbean coast destroyed on Monday, according to national authorities.
Human rights NGO Fundacion Sumapaz said Monday that rural communities in Taraza were running out of food, water and medicine.
President Gustavo Petro said Monday that the AGC was behind the infrastructure attacks and “has violated the ceasefire” with the security forces that supposedly has been in force since January.
The AGC responded by saying that rival illegal armed groups were behind the infrastructure attacks.
Multiple human rights organizations had called on authorities not to stigmatize or criminalize people taking part in peaceful protests on Sunday already.
How Colombia’s gold finances illegal armed groups
The golden elephant in the room
The big problem is that illegal armed groups have all but co-opted Colombia’s gold industry, the main economic engine in northeastern Antioquia.
In fact, 85% of Colombia’s legal gold exports are mined illegally, according to a Comptroller General’s Office report that was published in July last year.
Colombia’s security forces have been trying to reduce illegal armed groups’ gold revenue by destroying mining operations allegedly controlled by them, particularly in Antioquia.
Legal mining and trading companies that apparently launder and export the gold extracted by informal miners and illegal armed groups have barely been touched, however.
A remarkable number of companies with alleged links to illegal armed groups in Colombia are providers of multinational mining corporations whose stocks are traded at the Toronto Stock Exchange in Canada.
How money laundering inflates US-Colombia trade statistics
Meanwhile in Antioquia
While Canadian mining corporations like Aris Gold pretend to be legitimate businesses and Governor Anibal Gaviria pretends to be a legitimate politician, the AGC has all but taken control over the Antioquia and its regional economy.
Gaviria was first elected governor in 2003 thanks to support of the AGC’s predecessor, the AUC, but was never convicted for his evident ties to the paramilitaries.
The companies responsible for more than half of the 2021 gold production of Aris’ predecessor, Gran Colombia Gold (GCM), are owned by the former business administrator of jailed former AUC commander “Macaco.”
In fact, the nephew of Macaco’s wife told Colombia Reports that GCM Colombia contracted his companies in 2011 while he was on trial for managing the paramilitaries’ illegal businesses between 2001 and 2007.
Meanwhile, regional and national authorities have consistently accused the locals for working for illegal armed groups.