Workers at an illegal mining site in Antioquia, Colombia

With the FARC seemingly deepening their involvement in illegal mining, InSight Crime takes a look at what could happen to the Colombian guerrilla group’s stake in the industry should the peace talks see success.

The first round of negotiations between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government in more than a decade officially began on October 18. While many were taken aback by the FARC’s use of fiery rhetoric in a subsequent press conference, there is reason to believe that Colombia’s decades-long armed conflict can come to an end. As analyst Adam Isacson has pointed out, the guerrillas have so far participated in the talks “with seriousness and discipline,” demonstrating an encouraging commitment to the peace process.

But if the talks do go well, potentially resulting in the FARC’s demobilization, what will remain of the illicit finance networks is unclear. The group’s involvement in the drug trade is one of the five pillars up for discussion with the government, with Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon estimating earlier this week that the rebel group earns from $2.4-$3.5 billion annually from the drug trade. But this is only one of many sources of funding for the rebels. As InSight Crime has reported, illegal mining -- and gold mining in particular -- is fast becoming a central resource for the FARC. Indeed, a study released in September by the Toledo International Center for Peace (CITpax) found that illegal gold mining had overtaken coca production as the main source of income for the FARC and other armed groups in eight of Colombia’s 32 provinces.

A recent investigation by El Colombiano supports this claim, finding that in the province of Antioquia, rebels charge the equivalent of between $1,600 and $2,750 for each piece of heavy equipment that illegal mining ventures bring in to their areas of control. On top of this, they also charge for the entrance of gasoline, and demand a 10 percent cut of all profits. As El Colombiano notes, this is somewhat ironic given that the head of the FARC’s negotiating team, Luciano Marin, alias “Ivan Marquez,” devoted much of his public remarks in the post-talk press conference to denouncing the “exploitative” practices of large scale mining companies in the country.

InSight Crime Analysis

In many ways the issue of what will become of the FARC’s mining activities is linked to the broader question of the government’s approach to regulating the entire mining sector. Since 2002 the government has encouraged the mining sector, drastically increasing the distribution of mining permits in the country. Despite this, some estimate that nearly half of all mining in Colombia is illegal, or conducted by small scale mines without formal permits.

The government has promised to make it easier for mining ventures to acquire legal permits, but there are still at least 6,000 mines in the country that are currently considered illegal. This measure could be vital to weakening the FARC’s hold on mining. If these reforms were more strongly embraced by the state, it would grant miners the means to report extortion without fearing legal consequences.

Still, the rising price of minerals like gold gives guerrillas an incentive to hang on to their investments. Even if the FARC were to demobilize at the conclusion of peace talks, many cells currently profiting from mining would likely continue their activities despite the wishes of their commanders. Some analysts fear that a FARC demobilization would mirror the failed 2003-2006 demobilization of the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), in which a number of mid-level commanders and those under them turned in their arms only to return to their criminal past.

There is also evidence that guerrillas in some areas of the country are deepening their involvement in the mining process itself. The CITpax report found that in the central province of Tolima, the FARC’s Central Joint Command had reportedly purchased mining machinery, presumably to rent it out at a profit to miners in the area.

Since the “end” of the conflict would likely fuel further investment in Colombia’s already booming mining sector, it could put elements of the FARC hanging on to their mining operations at odds with large-scale, permitted mining companies in the country. Extortions and kidnappings of mining employees, which guerrillas have committed in the past, may increase and become more targeted as remnants of the group find themselves competing for resources and land. As such, any expansion of mining will likely require the Colombian military to prioritize security for multinational and domestic mining projects. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
Prev Next

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Guatemala's Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

Former Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla -- a decorated war hero and a longtime US ally -- finds himself treading water amidst a flurry of accusations about corruption and his connections to drug traffickers. López Bonilla is not the most well-known suspect in the cases against...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...