Army discovers active gold mines under Zaruma; Hit men are burned alive; Businesses closed for vaccine check violations; Medicine inventories increase

Dec 27, 2021 | 11 comments

Members of the Armed Forces discovered a large network of active illegal gold mining tunnels below the city of Zaruma during a weekend search. The operation, carried out by a Cuenca-based infantry brigade, followed the collapse of three houses in Zaruma last week due to a tunnel cave-in. More than 100 residents in the neighborhood where the cave-in occurred have been temporarily relocated due to fears of more collapses. Many nearby houses show cracking and subsidence, city officials say.

Legally sanctioned gold mining continues outside of Zaruma.

In their search, Army personnel found boxes of dynamite and ignition devices as well as firearms and ammunition. They also confiscated dozens of picks, shovels and burlap bags. They reported that hundreds of meters of tunnels appeared to be actively mined near the area of the collapse.

Illegal mining activity by artisanal gold miners, known as saberros, has been an ongoing problem in Zaruma for years despite a ban of activity under the city. Over the years there have been numerous cave-ins resulting in the destruction of dozens of homes and businesses. “Most of the tunnels are old, some of them from the Spanish era 400 years ago,” says mining engineer Juan Carlos Solano. “Unfortunately, there are many entrances to the mines, both in and outside of town and they are well concealed.”

He added that some of the mine entrances are located in houses in the city center. “Many of the local residents are involved in mining activities and this makes enforcement of the no-mining zone difficult. It has become a curse that the hill where Zaruma is built contains one of the richest gold deposits in South America. Because money can be made, the mining continues, as well as the risk to the city.”

Froilán Salinas, director of the Zaruma Citizen Security Council, says residents are reluctant to report mining activities due to intimidation from miners. “People hear the explosions under their houses and feel the shaking but they are scared to say anything,” he says. “There is an old saying here that the mines are filled with gold and skeletons.”

Hit men are burned alive
Two men who had just killed a third men in a gang-style killing were captured by an angry crowd Saturday in Bahía de Caráquez, beaten and burned alive. The men allegedly killed a man identified as Alexander M., also known as “Fat Alex,” and attempted a get-away by motorcycle when family members of the victim open fire on them. The men fell from the motorcycle and were grabbed by a mob that beat and stabbed them, according to district police. Subdued by their injuries, bystanders threw gasoline on the victims and burned them to death.

National Police Colonel Marcos Arguello said he believed the killing of Alexander M. was related to drug sales in the Leonidas Plaza area of Bahía de Caráquez and is part of the ongoing drug-related crime spree in Guayas, Santa Elena and Manabí Provinces. He said that most drug-related murders in the region are committed by men on motorcycles.

Business closed for vaccine violations
Ecuador’s Emergency Operations Committee reports that compliance with the proof of vaccination mandate improved over the weekend at businesses and public events requiring it. On Thursday, the COE and the Health Ministry complained about the lack of compliance. National and municipal police carried out checks of supermarkets, restaurants, cinemas, bars, liquor stores, brothels and bakeries over the weekend, concentrating in Carchi, Chimborazo, El Oro, Guayas, Loja, Los Ríos, Morona Santiago and Tungurahua Provinces.

During the operation, fourteen businesses were closed for three days and five were closed for two weeks and fined for not carrying out vaccine checks for entry.

In Cuenca, some stores and restaurants are checking vaccine cards but others say they are awaiting instructions from city officials. “I will respect the law when it is explained to me but so far I have received no information,” said a restaurant owner who asked to remain unnamed. “This will add a burden to my business at a time when I am still recovering from the pandemic.”

Medicine inventories increase at IESS hospital
Cuenca’s Jose Carrasco Arteaga Social Security Hospital reports that its inventory of medicines has increased to 80 percent of normal following emergency purchases by the government. In June, the hospital reported inventories of less than 50 percent, saying it lacked medicines essential for critical care patients.

Lack of medications has plagued both the Social Security and public health hospitals and clinics in recent years, the result of budget cut-backs and fraud. In 2020, 16 private contractors were arrested for overcharging hospitals for medicine and other supplies.


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