Illegal mining is a widespread problem whose negative consequences include pollution, destruction of local ecosystems, and hazardous working conditions, not to mention the crime itself. In Colombia, illegal mining has an even more problematic dimension: coltan (and gold) is mined to finance narco-insurgents.
The importance of “blue gold”
Coltan, short for columbite-tantalite, is a dull metallic ore; coltan ore itself hosts the minerals tantalum and niobium. Global leading producers include Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Rwanda. Demand for columbite tantalum is exceptionally high since its properties apply to the electronics industry, particularly capacitors. “Tantalum has contributed hugely to the miniaturization of handheld electronic devices such as mobile phones as it allows an electrical charge to be stored in small capacitors. For this reason alone, it’s easy to see the value coltan plays in modern life.
The Colombian government has recognized the importance of coltan and how profitable it is. The Colombian Ministry of Mining and Energy’s Resolution 18-0102/2012, passed in 2012, listed 11 minerals as “strategic interests” for Colombia, including coltan (tantalum and niobium). More recently, in early September 2022, President Gustavo Petro called for a diversification of Colombia’s mining industry. “Mining exploration and its profile would have to have another mining objective instead of looking for coal or oil. See if there is lithium, more copper, cobalt, coltan, and manganese. If there is not, other decisions must be made,” said the head of state.