Illegal gold mining is devastating Latin America

Illegal gold mining – often directed and by organized crime groups – is having a devastating effect on local ecology and communities across Latin America, Interpol said in a new analysis released last week.

Ecology and local communities in Latin America suffer from the devastating effects of illegal mining. (Photo: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay, License)“Illegal gold mining devastates the environment, causing deforestation, loss of biodiversity and habitat, and pollution of water, air and soil through the release of toxic chemicals.” the international police agency said in a statement. “Local communities also suffer from forced displacement, corruption, human rights abuses and health problems related to illegal mining.”

Interpol research revealed that Bolivia and Colombia were the main source countries for illegal gold, while Ecuador, Panama and Peru were both sources and processing centers for illegally mined minerals.

A 2021 report found that Colombia loses billions of dollars annually to illegal trade.

“Today, criminal mining brings in more money to criminal groups, guerrilla groups, mafias… than drug trafficking,” former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in 2015, while that he was still in office.

Illegal mines also spawn large criminal networks, ranging from metal smugglers to money launderers and front companies to support the industry.

“Crime convergence occurs when an organized criminal group operates across multiple illicit business lines,” Interpol explained. “Organized criminal groups operating in the illegal mining sector are also involved in human trafficking and human rights violations – migrant smuggling, forced displacement, kidnapping, sexual exploitation, forced labor, child labor, extortion – as well as financial crimes – corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.

To a lesser extent, drug trafficking and other environmental crimes such as illegal deforestation and waste trafficking as well as firearms and explosives trafficking have been identified as converging into illegal mining activities, a added the agency.

Last month, Brazil targeted illegal gold mines that had sprung up in its Amazon region. Some 30 tonnes of precious ore are said to be mined from the region each year.