Coltan ore is valuable as a source of niobium and tantalum, metals key to many kinds of electronics. Coltan mining has helped finance war in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Now new illegal coltan mining activity has sprung up in the remote Amazon jungles on the border between Venezuela and Columbia. It is controlled largely by armed militias and drug smugglers.
While coltan from the Amazon is still just a fraction of the limited world supply, it is used for devices ranging from smart phones to solar panels to guidance mechanisms for smart bombs. The US security community may perceive its inability to control this market as a threat. But there are also worries about the environmental impacts of the mining and its impacts -- good and bad -- on the indigenous people who mine it.
The story was dug up by a group of journalists working with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which is affiliated with the Center for Public Integrity, publisher of iWatch News. Those working on the package included Emilia Diaz-Struck, Joseph Poliszuk, Ignacio Gómez, Marcelo Soares, and Nari Kim.
Emilia Diaz-Struck and Joseph Poliszuk report for iWatch News March 4, 2012.