Resources & Climate

The Threat of Illegal Gold Mining in a Post-FARC Colombia

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This post is part of the Natural Security Forum blog, which provides quick analysis from the Natural Security Forum team and outside contributors. For more information, visit the Natural Security Forum’s micro-site at 

Written by the Natural Security Forum team

President Juan Manuel Santos’ groundbreaking deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, approved by Congress this month, promises an end to the country’s decades-long conflict. One issue that the agreement fails to address, however, and that could prove a serious obstacle to peace, is the FARC’s involvement in illegal mining. The rebels, who once relied almost exclusively on drug trafficking to fund their war against the state, have in recent years turned to illegal gold mining — a source of revenue so profitable that the illegal trade will not cease without dedicated efforts from the Colombian government to do so.

The failure to include illegal mining in the peace deal poses challenges for a post-war Colombia. Members of the FARC will almost certainly continue to finance themselves with illegal gold due to the lucrative value this brings in, and the lack of effort from the Colombian government to disassemble the organized criminal networks that harvest and sell it. Furthermore, Colombian history has shown that demobilizing paramilitaries tend to fragment and join existing criminal organizations rather than reintegrate into society. The presence of existing revenue streams for criminal groups make it likely that these formerly-FARC gangs will become entrenched in the mining sector. Worse, the fragmentation of the FARC after it demobilizes may aggravate the threat that the illegal mining sector poses to Colombia.

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