It is speculated that the FARC now make about thirty percent of their profits from illegal gold mining. They extort $3,800 a month for each backhoe in operation, and $141,000 a month for permission to mine a certain site. Jhimmy Calvache, the acting mayor of Mocha, the capital of Putumayo, said the FARC make about $450,000 dollars a week from illegal gold mining. The FARC named a commander, alias Mauricio, to oversee the group’s gold mining activities, which include outright ownership of some mines and extortion at other mining sites.
Gold mining poses a huge environmental challenge: Illegal miners use liquid mercury to separate gold from river sediments. Antioquia department has one of the highest levels of mercury pollution anywhere, according to the United Nations. An estimated 67 tons of it are released into the province’s environment each year, by about 30,000 miners taking part in the gold rush. Exposure to mercury damages the brain and central nervous system.
In Caucasia, Antioquia, the neo-paramilitaries, the Urabeños and the Rastrorojos, fight for control of the gold mines (and the cocaine trade). Last year, there were more than 60 grenade attacks in Caucasia, a small city of 100,000.
The illegal gold rush has no borders: The Ecuadorean Army shut down 178 unlicensed gold mining machines in Selva Alegre, in the Ecuadorean province of Esmeraldas, close to the Colombian border.
The head of Ecuador’s Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) said gold is taken illegally to Colombia, where mining companies which don’t actually produce any gold export it to the United States. This gold is later sent back to Colombia, and processed once more. This means that a company that does not mine gold can buy it illegally, sell it in the US, and then bring it back to Colombia and sell it once again, disguising the source of their illicit profits.
Part of the illegal gold rush is due to the success of cocaine eradication.