President Juan Manuel Santos announced Thursday that the government will now be offering large rewards for decisive information on illegal gold mining operations in Colombia in the form of confiscated gold.
Speaking at the close of a citizens’ security conference in the western city of Cali, the president said, “We have taken the important decision to offer a reward of up to 10% of the gold that is impounded due to complaints from communities, from the citizenry.”
“If a citizen denounces that there’s an illegal mine here or gold that is a product of that illegal mining here, and the [National] Police — the authorities — capture that gold, that citizen can keep 10%,” said Santos, standing alongside National Police Commander Rodolfo Palomino.
Santos hopes that this incentive will help in the nation’s fight against illegal mining, which he says is having “devastating consequences for the country,” environmentally, socially, and economically.
Illegal mining provides millions for active guerrilla groups such as the FARC and ELN, which previously relied on “taxes” on the drug industry for most of their funding. More recently, neo-paramilitary groups such as “Los Rastrojos” and “Los Urabeños” have incorporated illegal mining into a criminal portfolio that includes large-scale narco-trafficking.
A report released by the National Police last month confirmed that these groups clear large swaths of forest as part of their operations, and dump the mercury and cyanide they use to process the mineral in rivers that run throughout the upper Pacific region, near where the president was speaking.
The head of the environmental unit of the Prosecutor General’s office, Gloria Elsa Arias, stated in November of last year that different forms of illegal mining have caused not only damages to the environment, but also a number of other crimes.
“We can’t only investigate the mining process, because it is a social problem. In this business there have been reported cases of forced displacement and those who stay in the mining area getting killed. There has also been evidence of child labor and even [child] prostitution,” said Arias.
However, Colombia’s broader mining policy has been fiercely criticized by miners, human rights organizations and the opposition politicians, who claim that the government is punishing informal and artisan miners while allowing multinational companies to run damaging large-scale operations with little oversight and light taxation.
One of the central demands in last fall’s so-called “Agrarian Strike,” which saw massive nationwide protests and regional economic shutdowns and is scheduled to recommence April 28, was that the government stop its persecution of artisanal and informal miners. Colombia’s mining sector went on strike prior to the start of the previous Agrarian Strike, calling on the government to clearly delineate the difference between illegal and informal mining and see to the formalization of artisanal miners.
- Presidential press release (President’s Office)
- Santos anuncia recompensa en oro a quien denuncie minas ilegales (El Colombiano)
- Autoridades incautan maquinaria pesada para minería ilegal en Cauca (El Espectador)