Thirty percent of Venezuela’s gold production is destined for contraband, according to data from the nongovernmental organization Transparencia Venezuela.
During a speech at the headquarters of the think tank the Atlantic Council, experts warned about illegal mining activities, contraband, displacement, and violence taking place in Venezuela due to gold mining, with the consent of the Nicolás Maduro government.
Venezuelan journalist Lisseth Boon, from digital website Runrun.es, who described the illegal mining operations in Venezuela, took part in the event. The journalist believes that the Maduro regime has opted for that activity as a lifeline to stay in power.
“The mining arc was created to bring order to the mining activity, but it has become anarchy and informality. The state has allowed all these types of illegal activities, which are controlled by the military,” said Boon.
The journalist also warned about how government agencies are being used to formalize the irregular activity.
“The legal mechanisms are formalizing or laundering this gold that comes from the Orinoco mining arc. They’re also selling the nation’s gold reserves. Since Nicolás Maduro came to power the reserves have diminished by 60 percent, and are sold abroad to customers with a ‘murky’ reputation,” she said.
“Nonprofit organizations estimate that an average of 80 tons of gold are being smuggled from Venezuela each year through illegal means, without any kind of accountability,” Boon added.
According to Boon, smuggling routes start in the Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonnaire, and Curaçao. By land, trafficking occurs on the border between Colombia and Brazil.
Douglas Farah, security expert and president of IB Consultants, addressed the combination of criminal activities in the Venezuelan Amazon and the risks its inhabitants face by being exposed to violence from illegal armed groups and human rights abuses.
“Since it’s a lucrative business, it attracts prostitution, many times of minors; human trafficking; slavery, a series of things that violate human rights, focused on a sole business that is terrible,” Farah said.
Farah also warned about the environmental damage caused by these illegal activities.
“The most obvious consequence, in terms of the environment, is the total destruction of rivers, forests where there are animals, because the mercury used to extract the gold contaminates everything,” the security expert said.
Farah told Voice of America that controlling gold trafficking is much more complex than other illegal activities, such as narcotrafficking, since there is a consensus to fight it. By contrast, “with gold, building a legal framework to control the practice is complicated, because once it leaves Venezuela, it belongs to whomever buys it and there’s no way to prove whether it belongs to them or not.”
The IB Consultants expert said the possibility of sanctioning financial businesses, corporations, or entities abroad that profit from the purchase of Venezuelan gold in the black market is being considered.