According to reports, the protesters – mostly informal miners from 12 largely rural municipalities in the two provinces engaged in illegal gold mining – used trucks and tree trunks to block roads. The miners are decrying the crackdown on their floating machines called "dragons" that suck up silt and mud from rivers in search of alluvial gold.
Colombian Interior Minister Alfonso Prada said in a televised address that the machines were causing "a highly sensitive disaster to the environment and endangering the lives of the inhabitants and future inhabitants in the area, as well as the environmental sustainability of the region." Bogota's mandate to destroy the equipment is in line with the country's leftist new President Gustavo Petro's vow to intensify the machinery clampdown as the specific machine impact the ecosystem.
The government has, in the last decade, seized and destroyed hundreds of pieces of heavy machinery in the fight against illegal mining – which contributes to deforestation and pollutes the rivers with mercury. (Related: FORCE MAJEURE: Massive global shutdowns are now under way for METALS SMELTING operations covering iron, copper, nickel, aluminum, zinc and STEEL.)
Prada also blasted the protesters and the roadblocks they set up, saying that they disrupted the deliveries of food and medical medical supplies such as oxygen tanks. Up to 300,000 Colombians are suffering shortages of food and medicine.
"As long as the roadblocks exist, the possibility of us returning to the table is nil," he said, adding that the government had sought mediation from the Catholic Church to help reach an agreement.
Anibal Gaviria, governor of Antioquia province, told Colombian radio station W Radio that the miners have also been harassing local business people into closing their shops. The protesters had also been "preventing the use of all public and private infrastructure" including schools, and had allegedly even attempted to burn the Bajo Cauca municipal building.
Saul Bedoya, a spokesman for the miners, meanwhile urged the Colombian government on public radio to respect his comrades' right to work. The miners' strike and subsequent road blockages followed a declaration of "total war" against illegal mining made by Colombian Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez.
Nevertheless, the National Police of Colombia (PNC) announced on March 11 that it lifted several roadblocks and dispersed protests. In a statement to journalists, the police force said: "Freedom of movement has been guaranteed with these interventions ... enabling the mobility of people, food, medicines and transport in general."
The PNC also reported that an access road for a gold mine operated by the Chinese mining firm Zijin Mining had also been re-opened. The road to the said mine, located near the municipality of Buritica in Antioquia province, had been blocked by protesting miners – preventing miners employed by the company from having access.
After drug trafficking, illegal mining is considered the second biggest source of financing for illegal armed groups operating in Colombia. According to the United Nations' Office of Drugs and Crime, 65 percent of the country's alluvial gold production in 2021 was done through illegal means.
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