BOGOTA – Forty-eight illegal mines have been closed down in Colombia since August, 18 of them in “the last few hours,” Environment Minister Beatriz Uribe said, adding that two of the helicopters used in these operations have been seized.
According to a communique from that ministry, in the last few hours 18 illegal mines were closed that had been operating in the northwestern province of Antioquia and the northern province of Cordoba.
In the latest operations, authorities nabbed 17 people who were mining gold without permits.
In Operation Shield, authorities also confiscated 600 gallons of fuel, 24 small trucks, two large trucks and the two helicopters.
“Today we propose going beyond the innocuous debate on whether to safeguard the environment and whether to allow mining activities. We want to ensure the conservation of our natural surroundings and the quality of the environment by allowing mining that is ecologically responsible,” the minister said.
She recalled that since President Juan Manuel Santos took office on Aug. 7, operations against illegal mining have resulted in the closure of 48 mines.
Seized during these operations were 101 backhoes, nine dredgers, three bulldozers, 32 pumps, three motors, two firearms, 2,210 gallons of diesel fuel, 102 kilos (225 pounds) of mercury, a freight elevator and an electricity generating plant.
Uribe also said that her ministry has detected illegal mining in the provinces of Antioquia, Amazonas, Bolivar, Cauca, Caldas, Cesar, Choco, Cordoba, Huila, Nariño, Putumayo, Risaralda, Santander, Tolima, Valle del Cauca, Vichada and Vaupes.
“The big challenge is to make sure that the mining sector is in fact the driving force of the economy that we all want and that it becomes an ally in achieving our environmental-policy goals,” Uribe said.
She said the Colombian government will review the 571 mining permits covering close to 203,000 hectares (501,000 acres) that have been granted in areas where, according to existing law, operations of this kind are banned.
She asked Colombia’s Geology and Mining Institute to study the mining rights granted in areas that, according to the new Mining Code, are excluded from this activity, such as national parks, upland moors, wetlands and forest reserves.