What Illegal Mining in Latin America Reveals About the Nature of Organized Crime
By admin April 1, 2016

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illegal gold mining


In recent years there has been a rising gold rush in Latin America, conducted and managed mostly by criminal organizations in resource-rich countries such as Colombia and Peru. These activities by no means are solely limited to illicit extraction of national treasures in Latin American countries. They also have been usually accompanied by labor exploitation, human and sex trafficking and child labor.


A recent report by a Geneva-based think-tank describes the links between illegal mining businesses and other criminal activities as “staggering”. Wagner, a private sector advisor at the Global Initiative states that “sexual exploitation is very much prevalent in illegal mining areas, especially in Peru and Bolivia, and [the] impression is that the girls are getting younger and younger.”


The illegal mining situation, like many other illicit activities, draws its motivations from the global market. From 2000 to 2010, the price of gold has jumped for more than USD$1000, giving rise to multi-billion-dollar illegal mining industries, especially in Peru and Colombia. The profit margins in some cases are so significant that illegal mining is estimated to return three times as high as those from drug trafficking according to Colombian officials. Although the prices have been reduced in recent years, the illegal mining businesses continues to expand.


According to Global Initiative, 80 percent of the mining activity is illegal in Colombia. The prominent presence and expansion not only brings in many male workers, it also opens up opportunities for the sexual exploitation of female workers through various sex trafficking networks.


To a great extent, the recent experience of illegal mining in Latin America highlights an emerging view that the security challenges inside the continent not only stem from the drugs or coca cultivation in the region.


Based on this view, the legalization of narcotics would dry up demand of drugs in the black market, and ultimately lead to the loss of revenues for criminal organizations and starve their business and, hopefully, their existence. This is the fundamental rationale for ‘war on drugs’ in the region. On the other hand, some argue that the legalization would only legitimize the business of the criminal organizations and would not threaten the organizations themselves. According to this view, ‘war on crime’ should take precedence.


The case of illegal mining in Latin America might prove both camps to be wrong. According to Dr. Jose Miguel Cruz, the director of research at FIU Latin American and Caribbean Center, the organized criminal networks do not necessarily need ‘illegal’ products to gain profit from. The illegal mining shows how the exploitation of an apparently legal market by criminal organizations could re-establish profitability of their businesses. In this view, neither the legalization, nor the war on crime itself, have the potential to create the desirable result in the region.


The links between criminal organizations and all types of illegal activities are not limited to illicit products such as drugs or weapons. It is due to state’s inability in establishing a monopoly over violence. As we see in the case of the gold mining in Latin America, the absence of economic and political infrastructure – which creates vulnerable states – can spill over in different types of markets, whether legal or illegal.


What matters is the political will by which the states act upon the rule of law and a commitment to accountable and justified use of force instead of arbitrary and blind threat of violence.


For more information:

Gold at any cost: Illegal mining in Peru

Police destroying an entire town that had sprung up to support illegal miners in the Peruvian rainforest

Sex trafficking ‘staggering’ in illegal Latin American gold mines-researchers

Illegal Gold Mining

Thanks for sharing !

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