COLOMBIA NEWS (Diaologo-Americas) — The Colombian National Army has intensified its operations against outlaw armed groups that dig illegal mines – an activity that damages the environment.

llegal mining thwarted: Soldiers from the Colombian National Army’s Third Brigade seized four backhoes that FARC operatives were allegedly using for illegal mining on the road between the municipalities of Santander de Quilichao and Caloto on September 26. [Photo: Colombian National Army]
llegal mining thwarted: Soldiers from the Colombian National Army’s Third Brigade seized four backhoes that FARC operatives were allegedly using for illegal mining on the road between the municipalities of Santander de Quilichao and Caloto on September 26. [Photo: Colombian National Army]
Soldiers attached to the Third Brigade seized four backhoes suspected in illegal mining during the arrest of two alleged operatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) September 26. The organization is responsible much of the illegal mining in the country, using it to fund its terrorist activities. During the arrests – which took place on the road between the municipalities of Santander de Quilichao and Caloto – soldiers also seized US$400,000 in cash. They suspect the FARC intended to use those funds to purchase weapons and explosives.

In 2014, security forces in Cauca have seized a total of 21 backhoes used for illegal mining activities, while police have arrested 15 suspects.

“Troops from the Third Brigade will continue military operations in order to keep delivering positive results in the region,” said Third Brigade Commander Col. Jorge Iván Monsalve Hernández. “We will keep up the fight against this criminal activity, which not only finances terrorist groups, but also greatly affects the environment and natural resources.”

Harm to the environment

Illegal mining produces a number of negative consequences, including soil and water contamination, land erosion, and the loss of fauna and flora, according to the study “Impact of Illegal Mining in Colombia,” published in May 2013 by the Development and Peace Research Institute (INDEPAZ).

Scientific studies like the INDEPAZ report have extensively documented the ways that illegal mining can harm the environment. It requires large amounts of water, for example, depleting reserves that farmers and villagers depend on while weakening the soil. The use of backhoes to alter the natural course of rivers can impact their oxygen levels, harming fish and threatening the livelihood of fishermen. Contaminants from mining operations that find their way into water supplies can also threaten public health.

Illegal mining also produces negative social impacts.

“A false perception of abundance was created because the population earned more money, but now the population has to buy what they could once produce, due to the loss of agriculture as a main activity,” INDEPAZ reports.

Decreased coca cultivation

Groups like the FARC have adopted illegal mining because they insist on funding themselves at society’s expense. And as Colombian security sources crack down on drug cultivation and trafficking, criminal organizations are running out of options.

For example, coca cultivation decreased from 4,325 to 3,325 hectares in the department of Cauca between 2012 and 2013, according to the study “Monitoring Coca Cultivation 2013” by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). That report notes evidence that unlawful groups are engaging in higher levels of illegal gold extraction.

Illegal mining can be more attractive unlawful armed groups than coca cultivation, according to the study “Illegal Armed Groups and the Mining Industry in Colombia,” published in 2012 by the Observatory of Spain’s International Cooperation Office in Colombia. One significant reason is the high price of gold on the international market. In addition, gold is a lawful product, so mining it can also be used to launder money.