Kal Kotecha PhD
During the reign of King Charles, a daring and dashing man by the name of Thomas Blood committed one of the most notorious heists in history. He successfully infiltrated the Tower of London with a group of men with hidden weapons, and by ‘infiltrated’ we mean ‘was escorted in’ on the pretense of arranging to marry his (non-existent) nephew to the daughter of Talbot Edwards, the Keeper of the royal jewels of England. While he failed to escape with the jewels, it’s hard to say he was completely unsuccessful. King Charles was so impressed with him that he gave him a pardon and a place to retire on a plot of land in Ireland.
Amazing, daring, and the kind of thing that we often view a great jewel heist being made of. Some heists, however, are far less dramatic, and happen on a far grander scale. Such is the case with what is arguably one of the largest dollar value heists being committed every day with illegal gold mines in Colombia.
It seems like an odd kind of crime, especially considering the sheer scale it’s operating on. Illegal Gold Mining has become a serious problem in Colombia, with small-scale miner being driven off their land by bands of armed men, and honestly those are the lucky ones. The less fortunate were either shot, or forced into working the claims that used to be theirs.
So how much has this illegal gold mining been netting? Eclipsing even the most profitable bank-heist in history, illegal mines in Colombia are churning out $2.5 billion dollars in profit a year. Driven by increased human trafficking and fierce control of mines, this means we can now consider illegal mining to be the new cocaine of Colombia.
What made this come about? In part it’s due to one simple fact, cocaine is a highly controlled substance that is illegal in most countries throughout the world, and must travel through underground networks. Gold, on the other hand, is simply shipped out of the country through legal channels, enjoying all the comfort, convenience, and speed of Air Freight.
As if the numbers weren’t compelling enough, it becomes very clear that the illegal gold mining problem is out of control in Colombia. 80% of all gold being exported is estimated to come from illicit mining operations, mining operations that are fueled by slave labor and paramilitary groups. While the violence, bloodshed, and slavery that is arriving on the back of these operations, those issues are just the tip of the iceberg for the Colombia and its government.
Next on the list are the financial impacts this level of illegal export is having on the country’s economy. $2.5 billion is a significant amount of money for a country that only has a GDP of $378.4 billion. That amounts to .67% of the Colombian economy that’s being subverted by this industry, and if that doesn’t seem to amount to a lot, let us put that in perspective for you. .67% of Americas $17 trillion GDP amounts to $118 billion dollars, nearly the same as they spend on education every year. Needless to say, the Colombian government is feeling the effect.
How much of an effect? When one considers the infrastructure that goes into maintaining an industry producing $2.5 billion dollars in income every year, it’s greater than you might imagine. Untaxed and unrecorded dollars are paying for everything from fuel for the machinery being used in the operation, to transporting the ill-gotten gains out of the country. As if that isn’t bad enough, it’s obvious there is some big dollar bribes going around. With the 25% corporate tax rate instituted by Colombia, it amounts to $625 billion dollars of lost tax revenue. Enough to pay America’s entire military budget, in case it hasn’t sunk in, this problem is huge.
So what is the Colombian Government doing about this? Contrary to the world’s view of the country as a largely lawless place best known for its exports of coffee and cocaine, the Colombian Government is taking a hard line on illegal mining. President Juan Manuel Santos was quoted as saying “Illegal Mining is causing us more harm than other countries.” a strong statement when one considers that he means all enemies both foreign and domestic. “When we compare what criminal gold mining produces, it is much more than the production of drug trafficking.”
A New Bill that was announced would strengthen the penalties on criminal trade and enhance the powers of local police, granting them the power to take more decisive action against illegal mining operations. This would include the ability to close illegal mines down and seize the illicit gold if the possessor cannot justify its origins. The penalties involved with this level of criminal activity will also increase, with a maximum penalty of 30 years of imprisonment for the conspiracy and money laundering crimes that are involved with these operations.
Last, though certainly not least, of the impacts that Colombia is facing from these operations is the sheer amount of ecological devastation wrought by illegal mining. 16,784 hectares of land were cleared by illegal mining groups just in 2014, and with the rich biodiversity of Colombia, this is causing serious blows to the countries ecosystems. Partly in response to these ecological damages the Colombian Government has announced 1.6 million hectares of rich forested land were being designated as national parks, lending even stronger penalties to operations taking place there-in.
Colombia is facing a serious problem with these illegal gold mines, and it is refreshing to see such a stern stance taking on reclaiming their country from these criminal operations. Especially given that much of the income flowing in is being used to fund the countries leftist rebels and gangs organized into neo-paramilitary groups. Stopping illegal mining isn’t just about taxes and the safety of its people, if left unchecked, this could easily blossom into a problem that will challenge its present administration and sovereignty as an independent country.
Kal Kotecha PhD
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