Illegal gold mining
Close to the border with Panama and surrounded with two oceans, the department
of Choco is the second reserve of oxygene and the most rainy region on Earth.
This is also one of Colombia's larger gold reserve and for a century,
Afro-Colombians from Choco have moved to mining zones in search of luck.
The difficult access to the region and the presence of illegal army groups,
gradually pushed back the Government and made it strategic place for
narco-trafficking, smuggling, and illegal mining.
During mining operations, the land is turned upside down and the water is pumped up from the rivers into pressure-pipes used for cleaning gold. Miners use bulldozers for the deforestation and for the exploitation, while mercury and other chemicals are used to separate gold. Released in the rivers, they are threatening a protected eco-system.
While Colombia is in position 20 in the list of the major gold exporters countries, more then 85% of Colombian gold exports come from illegal mining. This led the government to start a war against illegal miners that consisted in identifying mine-zones from the air force and blowing-up the bulldozers with dynamite.
Governmental strategies favor big international mining companies. The government gave authorization for several companies to exploit the land. The same companies that are involved in Colombia in other large-scale mining projects, as "Anglo-American", from South Africa. Nevertheless, gold is the only source of income for a lot of people in Choco. Illegal miners associated in a syndicate (Federacion Minera del Choco) claim that the Government is fighting them because they represent a major concurrent to multinationals. On October 2016, the syndicates signed an agreement with governmental institutions to stop the use of mercury and cyanide in their activity and look at the peace deal between the FARCs and the Colombian government with hope, as this would offer to many of them the possibility to transition towards a legal status.
The fight between illegal miners and the state, though, is affecting the most vulnerable families of migrants from remote areas of Choco, who look for gold with shovel and tray among the waste of machines' operations in the jungle. "When they blow-up a bulldozer, they leave us with no job. The gold is too deep in the land nowadays, we cannot find it but in the waste of the bulldozers' operations" said a miner checking for the presence of gold in his tray.