Interpol: Illegal Gold Mining is Devastating Latin America

Published: 06 May 2022

Gold BarsLatin America's ecology and local communities suffer from illegal minning devastating effects. (Photo: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay, License)

By David Klein

Illegal gold mining – often led and by organized criminal groups – is having a devastating effect on both ecology and local communities across Latin America, Interpol said in a new analysis published last week.

“Illegal gold mining devastates the environment, causing deforestation, biodiversity and habitat loss as well as water, air and soil pollution through the release of toxic chemicals.” the international police agency said in a statement. “Local communities also suffer through forced population displacements, corruption, human rights violations and health issues associated with illegal mining.”

Interpol’s research found Bolivia and Colombia major source countries for illegal gold, while Ecuador, Panama and Peru were both sources and processing centers for the illegally extracted ores.

A 2021 report found that Colombia loses billions of dollars to the illegal trade every year.

“Today, criminal mining brings more money to criminal groups, to guerrilla groups, to mafias ... than drug trafficking,” former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in 2015 when he was still in office.

The illegal mines also spawn large criminal networks, including everything from metal smugglers to money launderers and front companies to support the industry.

“Crime convergence occurs when an organized crime group operates across multiple illicit business lines,” Interpol explained. “Criminal organized groups operating in the illegal mining sector are also involved in human trafficking and human rights abuses – migrant smuggling, forced displacement, kidnapping, sexual exploitation, forced labor, child labor, extortion – as well as financial crimes – corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.”

To a minor extent, drug trafficking and other environmental crimes such as illegal deforestation and waste trafficking as well as firearms and explosive trafficking were identified as converging with illegal mining activities, the agency added.

Last month, Brazil targeted illegal gold mines which had popped up in its Amazon region. Some 30 tons of the valuable ore are believed to be extracted from the region every year.