Cryptocurrencies haven’t made gold obsolete just yet. From Jay Weaver, Nicholas Nehamas, and Kyra Gurney at miamiherald.com:
When Juan Granda ventured into Peru’s Amazon rainforest to score another illicit load of gold, he boasted that he felt like legendary Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.
“I’m like Pablo coming … to get the coke,” he told two co-workers in a text message in 2014.
A 36-year-old Florida State University graduate who once sold subprime loans, Granda was no cartel kingpin. But his offhand comparison was apt: Gold has become the secret ingredient in the criminal alchemy of Latin American narco-traffickers who make billions turning cocaine into clean cash by exporting the metal to Miami.
The previous year, Granda’s employer, NTR Metals, a South Florida precious-metals trading company, had bought nearly $1 billion worth of Peruvian gold supplied by narcos — and Granda and NTR needed more.
The United States depends on Latin American gold to feed ravenous demand from its jewelry, bullion and electronics industries. The amount of gold going through Miami every year is equal to roughly 2 percent of the market value of the vast U.S. stockpile in Fort Knox.
But much of that gold comes from outlaw mines deep in the jungle where dangerous chemicals are poisoning rainforests and laborers who toil for scraps of metal, according to human rights watchdogs and industry executives. The environmental damage and human misery mirror the scale of Africa’s “blood diamonds,” experts say.
“A large part of the gold that’s commercialized in the world comes stained by blood and human rights abuses,” said Julian Bernardo Gonzalez, vice president of sustainability for Continental Gold, a Canadian mining company with operations in Colombia that holds legal titles and pays taxes, unlike many smaller mining operations.
Pope Francis is expected to condemn the horrors of illegal mining when he visits the Peruvian Amazon this week.
In Latin America, criminals see mining and trading precious metals as a lucrative growth business, carefully hidden from U.S. consumers who flaunt gold around their necks and fingers but have no idea where it comes from — or who gets hurt. The narcos know their market is strong: America’s addiction to the metal burns as insatiably as its craving for cocaine. NTR, for instance, was the subsidiary of a major U.S. gold refinery that supplied Apple and 67 other Fortune 500 companies, as well as Tiffany & Co., according to a Miami Herald analysis of corporate disclosures.
To continue reading: How drug lords make billions smuggling gold to Miami for your jewelry and phones