Mayors from several municipalities in the northwestern department of Caldas, which has long been a popular site for mining operations, reported an increase in illegal mining and the spreading influence of armed groups in the region.
Hector Jaime Osorio, Mayor of Marmato, claimed the abandonment of mines in the small town by Canadian-based gold company Gran Colombia has increased lawlessness in the area and generated poverty among residents who counted on the mining operation for work. Gran Colombia acquired the mines in Marmato two years ago and have thus far failed to define the scope of their planned operation. The gold-mining company has yet to meet safety standards and other recommendations made by municipal mining officials, according to the mayor.
Six miners have reportedly died in mining operations in the last six months in the department of Caldas.
Gran Colombia has been the target of heated protest in recent years after its alleged failure to allow “robust public participation” in communities where operations have taken place, according to Jennifer Moore, the Latin American coordinator for Canada-based industry monitor MiningWatch.
In 2011 a Catholic priest from Caldas protested his town’s demolition to make way for the company’s mining site. He was murdered by unknown assailants shortly afterward. Gran Colombia denied responsibility for the murder, saying it was simply a robbery gone wrong but suspicions among local residents abound.