EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — First it was illegal logging. Now the drug cartels are targeting gold, silver and zinc mining operations in southwestern Chihuahua state.

In the past two years, two criminal organizations have engaged in robbery, theft and extortion of miners near the towns of Urique and Bocoyna, said Police Commissioner Emilio Garcia Ruiz.

So much so that state police officers resorted to escorting workers and shipments of ore and supplies to their destination, he said.

Chihuahua police officers talk to employees at one of the affected mines in the southwest portion of the state. (photo courtesy State of Chihuahua)

“We have been working with the Dolores and Pinos Altos mines accompanying materials and workers during the transportation of extracted” product and other supplies, Garcia said Thursday in a videoconference.

The crimes range from “constant robberies, extorsion and even abductions and (illegal detention) of miners,” he said. The police commissioner identified the criminal groups as the Sinaloa cartel and the old Juarez cartel, now known as La Linea.

The illegal activity has waned since the state police assigned dozens of officers to the Mina Bras, Pinos Altos and Dolores mines, Garcia said.

The mine managers “gave us access to land in Piedras Verdes, where we will have 100 officers to combat the incidents near the mine and effect actions to recoup control in that sector of Chihuahua, to take it away from organized crime,” he said.

Chihuahua authorities move to safeguard private mining operations from organized criminal groups. (graphic, State of Chihuahua)

Mexican-owned Dia Bras operates three mines in Chihuahua, the one in Urique, one 60 miles south of Chihuahua City and one in the mountain town of Cusihuiriachi.

Pan American, headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, operates two mines in Mexico: La Colorada in Zacatecas and Dolores in Chihuahua. The Dolores site has yielded 5.1 million ounces of silver and has proven and probable reserves of 36.7 million ounces, according to the company website.

The company acknowledged that it reduced activities at the Dolores mine starting in May 2018 due to security incidents along access roads used to transport employees and materials. The company resumed transportation of diesel fuel, cement and other supplies to and from the mine shortly after.

“We would like to express our gratitude to the federal and Chihuahua state authorities in Mexico for their support and rapid deployment of resources to secure the access roads to our Dolores mine and we will continue to work closely with them as we move forward,” Michael Steinmann, president and chief executive officers of Pan American Silver said in a statement.

Chihuahua is Mexico’s third-largest producer of silver, zinc and gold. Pan American Silver is the world’s second-largest primary silver producer.

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