Organized crime networks in Latin America have long made their money off of drugs.
But over the past decade, as gold prices have soared, cartels have increasingly turned to illegally mining the metal to earn cash.
In Peru and Colombia, they’re now making more money exporting illegal gold than cocaine.
Eighty percent of the gold mined in Colombia and up to 90 percent of the gold mined in Venezuela is produced illegally.
That’s according to a recent report from The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, which outlines the impact this crush of illegal mining is having on displaced communities, forced-labor miners and sex workers who are trafficked to serve this burgeoning industry.
“When you arrive in these illegal mines, you just realize that there is like a chain of victimization,” the report’s author, Livia Wagner, said in an interview with PRI’s The World.
In illegal mines, workers are forced to extract gold in dangerous conditions across Latin America, and the report documents women and girls as young as 12 from all over Peru being trafficked to work in brothels near the mining outposts.
Many of the girls are lured by promises of work, and once they arrive deep in the Amazon, Wagner said, “there is just no way out for them.”
In some places, like Peru, mine owners are in cahoots with human traffickers. In places like Colombia, insurgent groups including the FARC actually manage the mines.
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