Police in Colombia report that FARC guerrillas and BACRIM groups are working together to mine gold in the Pacific province of Choco, further evidence of the business relationship between these two groups, once bitter enemies, in the interests of the gold, as well as the drug, trade.
Following reports from local indigenous communities, police discovered three sites in Choco used by these groups to illegally extract 15 kilos of gold per month, worth over $500,000 on international markets.
According to the national police, one of the leaders of the 34th Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Edison Tapias Maquilon, alias “Chaverra,” has established a gold extraction alliance with members of the Urabeños. National Police Chief Rodolfo Palomino said the 34th Front is also working with the Rastrojos under Tapias’ leadership, reported Caracol.
Police estimate Tapias has made $3.4 million from the trade. He is also accused of extorting artisanal miners working in the region.
Officials expressed concern over the damage caused to water sources through the use of cyanide and mercury by the illegal groups in the mining process.
Gold is believed to have become a bigger source of income for Colombia’s illegal groups than cocaine in eight of the country’s departments, including resource-rich Choco.
While the FARC, in particular, have long charged fees to local miners to work in areas they control, they have increasingly grown to control the extraction process itself. The Urabeños are also known to control illegal gold mining operations, in both the northwest and northeast of the Antioquia department that borders Choco, some of which they allegedly bought from the Rastrojos. They use extremely toxic and dangerous methods in the extraction process, and control everything from the purchase of chemicals to the sale of gold.
Choco has become the main territory of the FARC’s 34th Front, and three so-called “BACRIM” (for the Spanish “bandas criminales” – criminal bands) also operate in the region, including the Urabeños and the Rastrojos. There have been no reports of conflicts between the FARC and these groups, indicating they have respected a division of territory in the region. However, while scant on details, this present case indicates the 34th Front has now developed a direct working relationship with the BACRIM to control the gold trade in the region.
The BACRIM and the FARC maintain a drug trafficking business relationship, which has been evidenced in departments including the key gold mining regions of Choco and Antioquia. The FARC sells coca base to the BACRIM, but this relationship has also evolved over time. The development of gold ties is, perhaps, the logical next step.