The ELN (National Liberation Army) does not extort money from miners — or at least, it does not only do that. Instead, the second largest rebel group in Colombia controls a significant portion of all the mining operations in the north of the country, according to a statement made by police Thursday.
Police Intelligence has been combing through encrypted documents garnered from ELN computers, including balance sheets, and tracing the details of what it has called “a crude illegal mining framework.”
In the ELN’s own words, there are a series of “regulations” and “rules of the game” applying to “all miners” in rebel-controlled areas in the northern Bolivar and northwestern Antioquia departments, including one that reads: “Anyone who sells, gives away or trades mining jobs or materials with people outside the mountain range, without keeping in mind the regulations, will face the extinction of their dominion.”
The distribution of profits is also highly rigid, with “50% going to the War Front, and the other 50% centralized in the subregion.”
Then there are the fees charged throughout the mining process itself. A bulldozer, for example, costs $50 to operate per hour. Estimates are that cooperatives and other organizations regularly pay thousands of dollars to the ELN, on top of the profits they already kick up, just to cover the cost of production.
Colombian illegal armed groups, traditionally financed by drug trafficking and extortion racketeering have switched to gold mining over the past few years, and the ELN, which previously refused to enter the drug trade, has been storing gold reserves in the jungly, profits from what is apparently a fully integrated criminal organization.
The police report comes at a time when small and medium-sized mining companies are on strike to demand more support from the government, which has accused criminal groups of instigating the unrest.