On July 26, The New York Times ran a story outlining the efforts of Peru in attempting to eradicate illegal gold mining within its borders. As the Times story points out, the rampant and uncontrollable escalation of illegal gold mining is rapidly deforesting the rain forests throughout the Amazon. Mercury poisoning has become and will remain a growing cause of concern in the region for the foreseeable future. It is estimated that well over 400 tons of Mercury has been dumped into the regions rivers.
In the past, for example, illegal mining operations have been responsible for the killing and injuring of the local Yanomami population with guns and disease, with approximately 20 percent of the population being wiped out by the 1980’s. Now the threat to the local population is Mercury, a toxic liquid metal used to separate gold from grit. It is estimated that as much as 28% of Peru’s gold production is illegal. In nearby Colombia, the amount is believed to be 80%, or 45 tons.
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The dangers and inherent problems associated with illegal gold mining affect virtually every gold mining operation in developing countries contributing to the exploitation of the local population. In addition to the economic damage and environmental degradation being caused by illegal gold mining, such illegal mining operations have become a significant source of illegal finance. Illegal gold mining has generated illegal profits which are more than five times greater than those generated by the cocaine trade and three times the profits generated by the illegal weapons trade.[/message][su_spacer]
In addition to the economic damage and environmental degradation being caused by illegal gold mining, such illegal activity has developed into a major geo-political security risk that is being utilized in the financing of high-level military and governmental corruption and anti-government activity. In the Congo for example, conflict gold as it is known, finances not only both high-level military and government corruption but violent rebel and extremist groups as well.
Illegal gold mining activity has also been responsible for the escalation of organized criminal operations through various regions of the world, with a portion of the illegal profits being used to finance other illegal activity such as slavery and prostitution.
Due to a combination of easy availability, little inherent risk and benefiting from being largely unregulated, the gold obtained from illegal mining operations is becoming one of the best methodologies for the funding of illegal and terrorist activities.
A combination of geopolitical factors contribute to emerging countries becoming an incubator for transnational organized criminal and corruption activity. It is in these countries where through the monies being generated political leaders become either directly involved and acquiesce to such activity or are at a minimum complacent to such illegal activity.
Peru, Brazil, Cuba, the North Sulawesi’s Minahasa Peninsula in Indonesia and South Africa are among the areas particularly impacted. Many of the abandoned mines in Johannesburg have seen a recent boom in illegal mining activity.