Colombia and Brazil Target Illegal Gold Mining in the Amazon

Published: 08 December 2023

Illegal Mining Amazon Brazil ColumbiaBrazil and Columbia joined forces to dismantle illegal river gold mining facilities. (Photo: Polícia Federal de Brasil/X, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

Law enforcement of Colombia and Brazil teamed up against illegal mining in the Amazon, targeting 19 illegal gold mines – 12 in Colombia and seven in Brazil, the authorities of the two Latin America countries stated Wednesday.

During the three-day operation the Colombian Aerospace Force and National Police, together with the Federal Police of Brazil, identified and dismantled heavy river gold mining machinery, locally known as “dragons”.

The “dragons”, valued at US12 million and able to produce 15 kilograms of gold monthly, were located and literally blew up at Puré and Pureté rivers, both within national protected areas, according to the statement.

These vessel-type machines reportedly can have up to three floors, 20 meters in length, and large engines, which suck up the bottom of riverbeds while polluting the waters. They can also be equipped with sleeping and dining facilities for the crew.

According to the General Director of the Colombian National Police, General William René Salamanca Ramírez, the targeted illicit gold extraction in the bordering Colombia-Brazil region was possibly controlled by an organized crime group known as the Family of the North (FDN), the third largest criminal group in Brazil.

General Ramírez further explained that the destruction of the illegal river gold mines will help restore the ecological balance of the Amazon forest, as it will prevent pollution of more than 68 million liters of water with 114 kilograms of mercury – a by-product of gold mining.

Earlier this year Colombian President Gustavo Petro warned that the “illegal mining dredges do not belong to small-scale miners,” but to those involved in financing illegal armed groups.

As of February this year, President Petro’s government has dismantled 951 illegal mines, an average of six mines per day.