Security & Strategic Review - August 2019

Is Ecuador fighting a losing battle against illegal mining?

La Merced de Buenos Aires is a tiny settlement in the Imbabura region of northern Ecuador, located just 20km as the crow flies from the Colombian border. It is home to fewer than 2,000 people, most of them farmers. Or rather, it was, until late 2017, when around 10,000 people from across Ecuador and overseas descended on La Merced, attracted by the potential for a massive gold boom centred around the La Joroba mountain. Over a period of 18 months, a complex operation of illegal mining and export developed, centred around La Merced, all controlled by armed groups and with the cooperation of corrupt police and military officers.

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