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With Eye on Illegal Mining, Colombia Creates Environmental Crime Office

Colombia created a prosecutor's office which will deal exclusively with environmental crime. One significant question is how much energy the new office will put into investigating unlicensed mining, a source of money for the FARC and BACRIMs.

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The unit will consist of 22 attorneys trained in environmental law, according to El Espectador. The office will reportedly prioritize investigations related to environmental contamination, invasive use of protected land, and unlicensed exploitation of resources.

This may prove particularly significant for Colombia's population of traditional and artesanal miners, many of whom do not have the legal paperwork to prove their right to work certain mines.

In mineral-rich departments like Antioquia and Cauca, unlicensed mines frequently must pay extortion taxes to armed groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In Antioquia, miners told InSight Crime that the typical fee is between one and three million pesos (about $526 to $1,500) for each excavator which enters the FARC's territory.

In other parts of the country, armed gangs may tax the amount of gold actually produced per miner. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Colombia is currently experiencing a mining "boom." Some 40 percent of its territory has seen concessions handed out to, or solicited by, multinationals in the mining or energy sector. The creation of an office dedicated to prosecuting environmental crime may be partly intended to show investors that Colombia is serious about enforcing environmental standards.

The main development to look out for is how much time the prosecutorial office actually spends working on cases related to unlicensed mining. The Colombian government cracked down on the practice in 2011, citing security concerns because many unlicensed mines pay extortion taxes to the FARC. Mining activists have argued that the government is trying to edge out traditional mining to encourage the entry of multinational companies. 

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