Dirty gold is the new cocaine in Colombia — and it’s just as bloody

Article originally appeared in ReutersThe Black Hawk helicopters roared over a remote jungle in southwestern Colombia, ignoring the patchwork of emerald-colored coca fields that seemed to make easy targets.

Instead, they homed in on a yellow backhoe, far from the nearest village or road, tearing into a riverbank searching for a metal that has inspired dreamers and criminals since the Spanish quest for El Dorado: gold.

As the choppers hovered over the muddy clearing, heavily armed police, bristling with grenades, body armor and automatic rifles, rushed at the machine. The stunned backhoe operator fought back briefly, swinging the mechanical arm like a club, before running into the jungle amid a cloud of tear gas. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

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