Illegal Mining May Collapse Colombia’s Cerro Mono Ecosystem

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Colombian authorities have discovered that an important water resource is under threat from illegal mining in a rural area of Cúcuta, revealing that the region is dealing with far more than the mediatized border crisis with Venezuela.

In a visit to Palmarito, in the north of Cúcuta, a group of environmentalists discovered approximately 20 mining camps operating illegally in the rural area of Cerro Mono, which covers at least 515 hectares.

Cerro Mono is a mountainous region that is home to at least 10 water springs which ensure the longevity of Caño Barrancas, a tributary that supplies water to more than 3,000 families in the region. According to César Augusto Ortega, the mining and hydrocarbons coordinator for the Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Northeast Border (Corponor), illegal mining is destroying the water springs due to the tunnels that are being excavated to extract rich coal deposits in the sector.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Illegal Mining

In an attempt to contain the environmental damage, multiple organizations, including officials from the city of Cúcuta, have enacted initial measures to deal with the ongoing situation in the region. Such measures will further examinate the impacted area, which will then provide local authorities with a report to punish and convict those responsible for the devastation caused.

InSight Crime Analysis

Cúcuta is known for its proximity with Venezuela and as a hotspot for illicit economies such as human smuggling, drug trafficking and contraband. But the latest news of illegal mining in Cerro Mono shines a light on a criminal activity that has been unfolding in the shadows of the Venezuelan border crisis.

Illegal mining for gold and other resources has been well documented in other areas of Colombia such as Antioquia, Chocó, and the Catatumbo area of Norte de Santander. However, not much attention had been focused on Cerro Mono, partly due to the focus on the other illicit activities that are prevalent in Cúcuta.

The sudden attention to the ecological crisis in the region came after more than 300 farmers held a demonstration at the city hall of Cúcuta in early March. This was a rare sight, as often local groups typically benefit from the illegal practices for sustainability.

According to the Colombian government, illegal mining is responsible for almost 8 percent of all deforestation in the country. It was believed that illicit coal mining was concentrated in the area of Catatumbo, but clearly, the practice is now moving closer to the biggest city in the department.

SEE ALSO: After the Gold Rush: Colombian Town Counts Cost of Illegal Mining Boom

InSight Crime recently reported on Colombian illegal mining and the use of heavy machinery that causes irreparable environmental damage. With a water supply shortage of at least 50 percent in the region, it is clear to see why the local residents have firmly taken a stand against illegal mining and its catastrophic damage.

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