For the defense and protection of the environment – Advice Eating

Protecting the environment and preserving natural resources is the main task of the Brigade Against Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources. His focus is on stopping criminal organizations responsible for environmental degradation through illegal exploitation of mineral deposits to fund their illegal activities.

Their commander, Colonel of the Colombian Army, William Virgüez, spoke with them dialog about their operations.

Dialog: What is the brigade’s mission?

Colonel of the Colombian Army, William Alirio Virgüez, Commander of the Brigade Against Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources: We are part of the Army’s Airborne Division and belong to the land component, which in our case is the Command Against Drug Trafficking and Transnational Threats. Established about six years ago, the brigade carries out joint, coordinated and inter-agency cooperation activities to combat illegal mining and mitigate environmental damage in our country.

Dialog: What actions do criminal organizations carry out to the detriment of the environment?

Colonel Virguez: Various organized armed groups and criminal groups finance and promote the illegal exploitation of mining deposits throughout the country, causing irreparable environmental damage to ecosystems through deforestation, displacement of fauna and pollution of water resources.

Dialog: Which minerals attract criminal organizations most for their illicit operations?

Colonel Virguez: Gold for which they use mercury which causes environmental damage to our streams, rivers and in the Colombian Amazon and all mountains due to the use of this substance. There is also coal, the extraction of materials we call silt materials which are gravel, stones in the rivers and gems.

Dialog: What are the profits from illegal exploitation of mining sites for criminal organizations?

Colonel Virguez: I’ve always compared the profits from drug trafficking to those from illegal mining, and they’re the same. Unlike drug trafficking, which starts as an illegal activity and ends up being illegal, illegal exploitation of mining deposits can start out as an illegal activity and end up being legal, which is why armed groups use these illegal economies to generate a lot of resources.

Dialog: What kind of coordinated, joint, inter-agency operations is the Brigade conducting to protect the environment and preserve natural resources?

Colonel Virguez: We are part of the Bicentennial Heroes of Liberty (Bicentenario Heroes de la Libertad) campaign plan. Our army has nine major operations, two of which we support. One of the operations is Pedro Pascasio Martínez, an operation that attacks illegal economies, that is, the illegal exploitation of mining deposits. And the other operation is Operation Artemis, which aims to protect and prevent the environment [further damage].

Dialog: What results have you achieved?

Colonel Virguez: The results have evolved, especially thanks to the hard work of these two great operations, Artemis and Pedro Pascasio Martínez, which have hampered the economy of illegal groups because they no longer receive profits. In 2021, with the help of our armed forces, police and other institutions, we were able to conduct 315 operations, compared to 76 operations in 2020, which is a significant increase. Between January, February and March 2022 we performed 74 surgeries and the goal is to surpass last year.

Dialog: What strategies does the Brigade use against criminal organizations that impact the environment?

Colonel Virguez: A key strategy is for military intelligence to merge with other agencies and state institutions to work together because it really is everyone’s problem. We rely on the Attorney General’s office and others to run all of these operations because we are fighting the exploitation of these illegal economies while helping to prevent further environmental degradation as the acres are destroyed to extract a kilogram of gold depending on the machinery used and affected subsoil may take three, four or five decades to recover. In 2021, around 1,721 hectares were destroyed by the illegal exploitation of mining deposits. In 2022 we had interventions on almost 379 hectares. In 2021, illegal organizations received no more than $63 million. And this year, with the surgeries that we’ve been doing, they stopped receiving about $6-$7 million.

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