Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office must begin prosecuting illegal miners, the country’s Inspector General said Tuesday.
According to Inspector General Alejandro Ordoñez, Colombian law has established “sanctions, disciplinary and criminal penalties for those who exploit, manipulate or violate the provisions of the Mining Code.”
“It’s time to start the [prosecution of] illegal mining to protect our environment,” Ordoñez continued.
But that’s not all that is at risk, stated the Prosecutor General; “It’s not just crimes related [to] environmental damage, but…forced displacement…bribery, murder, money laundering [and] illegal arms possesion,” Ordoñez said.
In addition to his statements, the President also issued two executive decrees that would allow authorities to destroy confiscated mining machinery and place import restrictions on mining technology. The timing of the decrees coincided with a bill that would both define illegal mining and the methods the government intended to use to combat it.
“One of the difficulties we have had is that the offense is poorly categorized. Nowadays all we can do with illegal miners is punish them for causing serious harm to the environment,” said Santos.
The day after the bill was put forth before congress however, the Confederation of Colombian Miners (CCM) slammed it, ironically due to its lack of clarity.
“What concerns us is that the Government has not distinguished between informal mining, traditional and ancestral, and criminal groups that operate outside of the law,” explained Confederation President Ramiro Restrepo.
“The president says he has prepared a bill that will allow it to destroy mining machinery in their fight against criminal mining and we are afraid that suddenly the police will not make the distinction and it will badly affect us,” Restrepo explained.
In February, the fight against illegal mining was declared a “top priority” and the National Police were given an official order to use every tool at their disposal to rid Colombia of the practice.
Colombia’s policy, or lack thereof, in regards to informal mining has been fiercely criticized by miners, human rights organizations and the opposition party.
Colombia is persecuting small-scale, informal miners “as if they were criminals, to clear their territories for the multinational mining companies,” Polo Democratico Senator Jorge Robledo told Colombia Reports back in February.
The fact that many of these small-scale miners “lack a particular paper or a particular license is common in all [of] Colombia’s commercial sectors,” said Robledo.
Rhetoric aside, in 2011, Colombian coal production increased by 15% to 86 million tons and gold production increased by 4% to almost 56 tons. This year’s numbers are expected to be even higher due to the fact that only 51% of Colombia was sufficiently explored and tapped in 2011.