Illegal mining is a “cancer that must be removed,” said Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos Thursday.
“This criminal practice has not only generated pressures and extortions for legal miners, but it has also caused disastrous damage to our environment,” said the Head of State.
Santos stated that the FARC and other illegal armed groups are using illegal mining as a new way to finance their activities as “a result of permanent blows to their drug structures.”
“That’s why we have made illegal mining a “high value objective” and why the National Police has an official order to fight with every tool that is at its disposal,” said Santos.
“Last year we made nearly 13,000 arrests for the crime of illegal exploitation of mineral deposits. We have already captured another 295 just this year,” said the press release.
“No one can deny that Colombian mining is on the rise and going at a good speed,” said the president, “we are the largest coal producer in Latin America and world-wide we are the tenth largest producer and the sixth largest exporter.” In 2011, Colombian coal production increased by 15% to 86 million tons of coal. Gold production increased by 4% to almost 56 tons.
According to Santos, those numbers are expected to continue increasing. “We have great potential because we’ve only even explored 51 percent of our territory, we hope to reach 63 percent this year and 80 percent in 2014.”
He continued on to say that the government is keeping its environmental promises but working to speed up the permitting process. He said that before, certifying the presence of ethnic communities took about six months and now it takes about 15 days.
“Mining directly employs more than 200 thousand Colombians and indirectly another 670 thousand…Not to mention the investments made in social and environmental responsibility, as well as the construction of public infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and power grids,” said Santos.
He finished by thanking the mining industry for its contributions to the country, stating that last year alone the industry paid more than $500 million in income tax and royalties.