Colombia's FARC Lured by Gold Mining

Source:

"Notorious guerrilla group eager to expand drug-running and extortion rackets."

For decades, the bullion buried beneath these hills has attracted sun-scorched dreamers and global corporations alike.

Now, the Colombian government is worried that the nation's gold wealth is luring guerrilla groups and criminal bands eager to expand their drug-running and extortion rackets.

In September, President Juan Manuel Santos warned that the nation's oldest and bloodiest guerrilla group, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and the smaller National Liberation Army, ELN, were involved in gold mining.

Last month, amid a government crackdown on illegal mining near the town of Anorí, the FARC dynamited a bridge and allegedly forced thousands of villagers from their homes.

Gold Miner Jairo Caleta said mine owners are often required to pay off guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups. The vacuna, or vaccine, as the protection payments are called, are ubiquitous wherever money is being made. And right now, Segovia is flush with cash.

"But nobody talks about it," says Caleta. "You just keep your head down and keep working because it's happening everywhere."

Authorities in Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador have been scrambling to crack down on wildcat operations. In Colombia, the National Police have shut down 56 illegal gold mines since September—impounding millions of dollars worth of heavy equipment, firearms and cash.

But yellow fever is also attracting big capital.

In Colombia, from 2002 to 2010, the number of mining permits went from about 1,500 to more than 8,500, the Ministry of Mines said. The revenue from the country's legal gold exports now exceeds that of its signature crop: coffee.

Worldwide, gold production hit 2,652 tons last year—a record, according to precious metals consultancy GFMS.

These international forces have thrust traditional mining villages like Segovia—population 45,000 in northern Colombia—into the spotlight.

Get Our Streetwise Reports Newsletter Free

A valid email address is required to subscribe