Organized crime in the Amazon: Illegal mining hotspots

By Adriana Abdenur

Published on Climate Diplomacy

A new form of organized crime has recently been emerging in the Amazon: illegal mining. Miners fell trees, use high-grade explosives to oblast soils and dredge riverbeds. But the impacts go beyond environmental damages, bringing with it a slew of other social problems. Peace researcher Adriana Abdenur urges policymakers to improve coordination and argues that diplomacy may help prevent further conflicts, corruption and crime.

In popular accounts of the Amazon, organized crime in the region is often associated with illicit drug trade and illegal extraction of wood. While both activities continue to take place in the region, recent evidence shows that criminal networks are increasingly focusing on illegal mining.

The rise in the price of gold, coupled with its abundance in the Amazonian soil, together with the relative ease of extraction and the effective absence of the state in much of the region, have made mining more lucrative for many criminal networks than the trade in cocaine. An interactive online map released by RAISG, a consortium of organizations in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Peru shows that illegal mining (not only of gold but also diamonds and coltan) has spread not only into remote areas of the Amazon, but also along border areas.

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