A journalist in Peru has reported that Colombia’s FARC guerrillas are profiting from the illegal gold trade inside Peru, underscoring the rebels’ cross-border activities and their deep involvement in the lucrative illegal mining business.
According to reports by Cecilia Valenzuela in El Comercio and in television program Mira Quien Habla (see video), an alliance has existed between the 63rd Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and Peruvian illegal miners operating along the Putumayo River — which divides Colombia and Peru — for at least three years.
Octavio Ortiz Ramirez, alias “Wilmer El Burro,” the head of the 63rd Front of the FARC’s Southern Bloc, charges the Peruvian miners for protection services and logistical support, she reported.
Colombian police have identified the Colombian national Jair Manrique Pedroza as the top buyer of illegal gold from this region, according to Valenzuela. El Tiempo reported that Colombian police have also identified the people who serve as go-betweens for the FARC leaders, gold miners and buyers.
Some 3,000 grams of gold are reportedly extracted in this border region each month, with each gram worth around $30, making a total of $90,000.
InSight Crime Analysis
This alleged movement of the FARC into Peru’s gold trade in part speaks to the profits to be gleaned from the business. Illegal gold mining in Peru is worth an estimated $3 billion a year — more than double the estimated value of the drug trade. The FARC already have significant experience in this illicit industry in their home country, taxing mining operations and even exerting control over the extraction process in mineral-rich provinces like Antioquia and Choco.
SEE ALSO: FARC News and Profile
A similar phenomenon has been reported in Venezuela’s gold trade. Sources in Venezuela told InSight Crime they had seen direct FARC involvement in gold mining in the southern Venezuelan province of Amazonas, with the guerrillas offering protection and controlling extraction.
The rebels have become increasingly concentrated in Colombia’s border regions due to pressure from Colombia’s military in the center of the country, as noted in a report (pdf) by the Fundacion Ideas para la Paz (FIP). The area inside the Venezuelan border is already an important safe haven and operational base for the group, and there have been previous reports of a FARC presence in Peru as well. In 2008, Caretas magazine accessed official documents that indicated some 1,500 hectares of Peruvian coca were controlled by the FARC, and that members of the guerrilla group had been detected in Peru as far back as 1989.