Police say they have arrested the financial chief of an illegal mining alliance between the armed groups “Renacer” and “Los Urabeños” in the north-west Colombian state of Choco.
Bertulfo Henao Garcia, alias “Beto” was captured in Colombia’s second biggest city Medellin, for allegedly handling the finances of a criminal alliance that controlled illegal mineral exploitation and extortion against indigenous communities and the population of Choco.
“Beto was in charge of financing the expansion of the group’s criminal activity; he was also the [alleged] administrator or director of illegal mines under the control of ‘Los Urabeños’ in the state of Choco, where the group controls the region through extortion, drug trafficking, and illegal mining which is their biggest source of income,” Colombia’s national police said in a statement.
Beto was also wanted for conspiracy to commit murder in another investigation, according to the national police.
Police are yet to comment on the impact that the capture will have on the illegal mining operations in Choco and surrounding states.
Environmental Effects of Mining
Both legal and illegal mining are devastating the northwest region of Colombia. In the state of Risaralda, which borders Choco, there are reports of lakes double the size of Olympic swimming pools, filled with cyanide and mercury, according to the Regional Autonomous Corporation of Risaralda (CADER).
Illegal mining requires a constant supply of water which usually means that it is done by rivers or streams. The water is extracted with pumps and eventually ends up going back to the source with a number of contaminants.
Mining has led to pollution of rivers and deforestation greatly affecting the local populations that depend on the environment for their livelihood, according to local media. At the beginning of the month, a report by the country’s Hydrology Institute of Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) issued a warning of deforestation for the state of Choco due to mining.
The problem is so extensive that Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said last month that the government will offer large rewards for decisive information on illegal gold mining operations. Informants could receive of up to 10% of any captured gold.
Police and military offensives manage to shut down some illegal mines, but cannot keep up with their proliferation rate and enforcement in the Colombia’s remote and underdeveloped jungle regions.
IDEAM also said they will continue monitoring the affected regions periodically every six months.
- Capturado zar de minería ilegal en el Chocó (Policia Nacional)