Venezuela Tackles Illegal Gold Mafias as Chávez Nationalises Gold Industry
by Rachael Boothroyd, 23 August 2011.
This Tuesday military chief Henry Rangel Silva revealed that over 40,000 hectares of land had been recovered and 15,000 people freed from conditions of “slavery” as part of Plan Caura, the Venezuelan government’s anti-illegal mining project.
Silva, Chief of Venezuela’s Operational Strategic Command, is currently head of the anti-illegal mining initiative, formed in 2010 when the Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) were given the task of stemming Venezuela’s growing problem with illegal mining activities in the south eastern part of Bolivar state.
In an interview with state television station VTV, Silva condemned the clandestine mining mafias operating in the region for creating a “system of exploitation” which destroyed the environment and subjected miners to dehumanising conditions, including human trafficking and prostitution.
“Man believed in the legend of El Dorado... delving into the jungle in search of that fortune, an enormous quantity of gold that never turns up for them because although they work their whole lives extracting the mineral and destroying the natural environment, they are also exploited by a system, by mafias which build themselves up around that system, moulding an important and solid structure,” he said.
During the interview the military chief remarked that dealing with the Venezuelan mining problem was no easy task and that it had become a “way of life” for a lot of people who lived in the jungle. Despite this, Silva stated that the FANB had managed to reduce illegal mining activities by 85% in the state of Bolivar, where the practice had existed for 50 to 60 years.
Silva elaborated that mining activity had been particularly harmful to the nation’s river beds and estuaries, as the power of the water had been used to erode the river banks in order to search for gold, leaving the ground totally “destroyed.” This had also had a negative impact on the country’s electricity supply, which is 70% based in hydro-power, said Silva.
Most of the miners that the armed forces found were from Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil and had been enticed by the idea of finding an “El Dorado”. In reality, the miners were being heavily exploited by the mining mafias, who provided the workers with equipment and financing, but who then took the gold and legalised it in neighbouring countries abroad.
“We broached the issue with intelligence work, and we arrived at a military strategy of dialogue, of interaction with the miners, because we were sure that the miner that was in the jungle was not an enemy of the armed forces,” he continued.
“But if the mafias arrive in a particular place, we get there immediately to stop their activities.”
Nationalisation of the Gold Industry
Following his announcement last week that his government planned to “bring its gold reserves home” and to nationalise the Venezuelan gold industry, president Hugo Chávez today officially signed a decree nationalising the industry. The Venezuelan mandate stated that this was the first step in “putting an end to illegal mining activities.”
Chávez also signed a document allowing for the formation of majority state-owned “mixed businesses” for mining exploration and exploitation. These businesses, formed between the state and private enterprise, will “undo the serious effects of the capitalist mining model, characterised by the degradation of the environment, irrespective of national laws, and the attack on the dignity and health of the miners and neighbouring communities,” said the president.
During this week’s ministerial meeting at the Miraflores Palace, Chávez urged the Bolivarian armed forces, miners, and the Venezuelan people to organise in order to make nationalisation “a reality.”
“Without you this would be impossible. I’m calling on the workers in the mining industry to join. This is for you, for the motherland. To fight against old vices,” said Chávez, speaking directly to the workers at Minerven, Venezuela’s General Mining Company.
Following the announcement workers at the company classified the day as “historic” and confirmed that they would set up committees for the defence of the nationalisation process in response to Chavez’s appeal. José Khan, Minister of Mining and Basic Industries, stated that these committees would unify the workers collective efforts and create “new forms of organization.”
“We have to say with pride that this is the rescue of sovereignty. Guayana is a town with more than 300 years of historical experience in gold exploitation, and in those 300 years, we cannot say that the gold was reinvested for the benefit of those who mined it. Each day, it has been an impoverished town, whilst only a few benefited from that exploitation,” concluded Khan.