Five people, including one minor, were murdered in a small village in Antioquia in an attack believed to be part of a larger struggle between criminal groups in Colombia for control of unlicensed mining operations.
Another three people were wounded after gunmen opened fire in a village bar, early morning June 3 in Remedios municipality.
Remedios is traditionally one of Colombia’s most prolific gold-producing districts, and is home to the country’s largest underground gold mine. Several Canadian-based companies, including Gran Colombia Gold and Tolima Gold, currently operate exploration and production projects in the municipality.
Antioquia police commander Jose Gerardo Acevedo said the assailants are members of the Gaitanistas, a name usually used interchangeably with the Urabeños. It is believed the attack was part of the larger ongoing struggle between the Urabeños and Rastrojos, two criminal gangs, over control of unlicensed mining operations in the area. Acevedo said another rural police squadron would be dispatched to the region to tighten security, bringing the total number of mobile police units to four.
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The attack in Remedios may attract attention from the highest levels of government, thanks to the number of foreign multinationals with exploration activities here. The pressure is on President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration to show that it can maintain security conditions in some of the most under-developed, conflict-ridden parts of Colombia where many foreign mining corporations now have interests.
In one possible indication of the seriousness of the attack, Governor of Antioquia Sergio Fajardo commented that illegal mining operations are more lucrative than drug trafficking. This view is increasingly expressed by Colombian officials, and may be intended to imply that the government plans to treat unlicensed mining as one of their new top security concerns. Colombia’s mining and energy minister said last year that unlicensed mining “should be given the same treatment as drug trafficking,” while former National Police Chief General Oscar Naranjo recently said that his successor’s biggest challenge would be combating unlicensed mining, a growing source of income for organized crime.
Rebel group the FARC and other armed groups either extort or directly control mining operations in about half of Colombia’s municipalities, the police have said. But the level of control that these criminal groups wield over mining operations can vary greatly. Groups like the Rastrojos usually tax mining equipment or the amount of material produced per mine.
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