FARC and drug gang involvement in gold mining increases extortion and property damage risks, particularly in Antioquia and Putumayo.
BY CARLOS CAICEDO
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and new generation drug gangs (known locally as 'Bacrims') are increasingly turning to gold mining as a source of income. In some provinces, mining income has overtaken that from drug trafficking for FARC rebels. Mining represents about 25 percent of Colombia's exports. The coal sector is already well developed and there is significant interest from foreign firms in the currently underdeveloped gold sector.
However, some of the most promising deposits are in areas with a large presence of artisanal, mostly unlicensed, miners. The government believes that 80 percent of all mining in Colombia is conducted illegally. The scant security force presence in some of these remote areas permits the FARC and Bacrims to latch on to this and often fight each other for the right to extort.
In July 2012, National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas blew up an electricity plant at the Concarivana gold mine in Montecristo, Bolívar, apparently due to the workers' refusal to cooperate. It is a similar situation in Cauca, Chocó and Valle Del Cauca departments. There is also evidence of armed groups controlling coltan and tungsten operations in the eastern provinces of Vichada and Guainía.
Furthermore, the overstretched military is unable guarantee protection for properly licensed firms at many remote sites. The rail line between the Cerrejón coal mine in La Guajira and its Caribbean port tends to be bombed by the FARC several times a year. Mining and power equipment at the site has also been targeted.
Carlos Caicedo is head of the Latin America division at Exclusive Analysis, a UK-based global risk consultancy.