The destruction of tropical rainforests in Venezuela continues due to illegal mining. Venezuelan criminal groups, paramilitary groups, and Colombian guerrillas, have destroyed close to 2,821 square kilometers of forests under the protection of the Nicolás Maduro regime, according to the report Illegal Mining in Venezuela: Death and Devastation in the Amazonas and Orinoco Regions, published by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and presented in a virtual forum on June 26.
The report records the damages to the environment, human rights, health, public order, and stability in the region. Venezuelan criminal organizations compete for control of the mining area with Colombian guerrillas, such as the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) and dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-D, in Spanish), both protected by the Maduro regime, the document says.
“Many of Colombia’s illegal structures have found a safe haven in Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship to strengthen their criminal businesses, which seriously affects us,” Colombian Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes Trujillo said during the virtual forum. “Amid this economic crisis, and especially due to the loss of oil revenue, the Maduro [regime] has had to resort to gold to finance international operations.”
This was confirmed on June 24 in the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2019: Venezuela, which disclosed: “Financial ties with FARC-D, ELN, and Venezuelan paramilitary groups facilitate the public corruption and graft schemes of the regime to include members of the armed forces.”
The U.S. Department of State notes the presence of the ELN in 12 of Venezuela’s 24 states, and warns about the “sporadic cooperation between FARC-D and ELN in the areas of road/border checkpoints, subsidized food distribution, recruitment and forced displacement of vulnerable indigenous communities, and trafficking of illegal narcotics and gold.”
The CSIS report confirms that the ELN has expanded its control in the Mining Arc (a mining area in southern Venezuela) since 2019, where it controls several important transport corridors and manages equipment supply chains in the region.
In addition to deforestation caused by illegal mining, “the indiscriminate use of substances such as cyanide or mercury causes lethal pollution in our farmers’ water sources,” Holmes added.
CSIS has found high levels of mercury in freshwater fish from the region, which are exported for consumption to Brazil, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago. The NGO also found that about 500,000 workers are involved in illegal mining operations, many of them from indigenous communities who are forced to work. “These miners mostly are impoverished Venezuelans, and an estimated 45 percent are underage,” the report says.