Illegal Mining Growing Rapidly in East Venezuela

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Illegal mining in eastern Venezuela has expanded rapidly in recent years, drawing attention to a mining region where no large underworld structures are known to operate but that nonetheless offers ideal conditions for criminal exploitation.

According to Venezuela’s Center for Ecological Investigations (CIEV) — cited in the 2014 annual report by the Venezuelan Education Program – Action on Human Rights (PROVEA) organization — ilegal mining in Venezuela’s Guayana region (which consists of Bolivar, Amazonas, and Delta Amacuro states) is resulting in environmental degradation and the exploitation of local populations (pdf).

Between 2013 and 2014 alone, the CIEV documented a 40 percent increase in hectares destroyed by illegal miners in Bolivar state, with the areas of Sierra Imataca in El Palmar, Paragua, Upata, and El Manteco most affected (See map below, produced by El Nacional).

Venezuela Mining Map

Mercury (used to mine gold) has also polluted water sources, while local communities, the CIEV notes, have also been pressed into service to carry fuel and liquor to miners in a form of “neo-slavery.”

Since 2003, the Venezuelan government has launched five initiatives in the Guayana region to end illegal mining, reported El Nacional. However, Americo De Grazia — a National Assembly representative from Bolivar state — said these efforts have been unsuccessful because they create a “cocktail for violence,” and criminalize an activity that has been going on since before the country was founded.

On June 10, De Grazia presented before the National Assembly’s Energy and Petroleum Commission a report calling for the creation of a “Guayana Mining Corporation” to regulate how, when, and where mineral extraction can take place in the region.

InSight Crime Analysis

Illegal mining has been a consistent problem in other Latin American countries like Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, with criminal and guerrilla groups — such as Mexico’s Knights Templar and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — extorting and controlling mines and even setting up their own mining operations.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mining

Such powerful criminal and insurgent organizations do not have a significant presence in the isolated parts of Venezuela where illegal mining is rife. However, other conditions — such as an informal economy short on employment opportunities, an absent state and the potential for large profits — are present, making for fertile ground for illegal mining. With the Venezuelan government’s repeated failures to impose its authority and curb illegal mining, there is little to impede the expansion of the trade.

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