In an operation that began last week, about 200 army troops moved into the small community of Buenos Aires in Imbabura Province and shut down a nearby gold mine that operated illegally. According to Imbabura Governor Galo Zamora, the operation dislodged a criminal network that controlled both the mine and town.
According to Zamora, the network charged fees to hundreds of miners, extorted money from local citizens and maintained a near strangle-hold on Buenos Aires. “We believe that as many 7,000 were involved in illegal activities at the mine and in the town,” he said.
“When the soldiers and police moved in, most of the criminals left and are now hiding in the mountains. We are very happy to have our town back.”
He added that many of those who operated the mining operation were Colombians. “These are the same people who are involved in the illegal drug business. For months, they have controlled all mining operations here, road access, charging miners $400 to mine as well as for the material brought out of the mine.”
To occupy the mine site, army troops were transported in small 4-wheel drive vehicles since the access road is impassable by larger troop transport vehicles.
According to Zamora, the mining has caused considerable environmental damage. “Trees and vegetation have been removed causing run-off and landslides in down-slope areas. It will take years for the land to recover.”
On Monday, many of the army troops had left the area, replaced by national police personnel.