Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó continues to pressure the international community to include Venezuelan gold in the list of so-called “conflict minerals.”
The president of the National Assembly, recognized by more than 50 countries as interim president of Venezuela, raised the problem of what he called “blood gold” during his presentation at the Davos Forum in January 2020. He reiterated his request in technical meetings with the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, he told the press in late February.
Gold extraction in the Orinoco Mining Arc — an area that represents 12 percent of Venezuela’s territory and covers the northern region of the Bolívar and Amazonas states — is not only a source of ecological and health problems for the population, but also fuels violent crimes, said the interim president.
In February, nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported what it called “horrible abuses” that residents of mining communities face. In the worst cases, said HRW, criminals have executed and dismembered in public those who do not follow their rules. José Miguel Vivanco, head of HRW Americas, reported that armed groups, some of them connected to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army, as well as criminal gangs known as “syndicates,” control mining enclaves. People the HRW interviewed said that they saw service members collecting bribes and that a top Maduro regime official was present in several incidents.
According to Roberto Briceño-León, head of the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, Bolívar has been climbing to the top of the list of states with the highest murder rates since 2016. In 2019, it ranked second with 84 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
He added that, since 2017, El Callao, a town with heavy mining, has the highest murder rate. In 2019, Briceño-León said, the town had 368 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
“In El Callao, the death toll for resisting authority is three times higher than that of homicides. In 2019, violence administered by police or military forces dominated. This violence arises as an attempt to control the wealth of the mines,” he said.
In other parts of Bolívar, however, violence associated with mining activity is connected to attempts at appropriating gold that has already been extracted. According to Briceño-León, gold has almost completely replaced the local currency, the bolívar, to make purchases in places such as Puerto Ordaz, a town in the Caroní municipality and the headquarters for mining companies.
The former governor of Bolívar state, Andrés Velásquez, said that declaring Venezuelan gold as a conflict mineral would have an impact on the regime’s finances, but also on those of armed groups that profit from the activity. According to his estimates, the Central Bank of Venezuela only receives between 30 and 40 percent of the metal extracted in the Mining Arc.
He pointed out that disputes over mining control in Bolívar have generated more than 40 massacres since 2006, and that he tries to work with international organizations to shed light on the violence linked to mining.
A new legislation, the Conflict Minerals Regulation, will take effect across the European Union in early 2021. Its objective will be to halt the traffic of tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold that are extracted through forced labor or used to fund armed conflicts.
According to Daniel Valero, a Venezuelan consultant on precious metals markets, one of the biggest issues when attempting to enforce this kind of measure has to do with identifying the origin of metal shipments that may be found abroad.
“You have to collect evidence to establish the metal’s traceability, and study the routes of possible smuggling,” he said. He warned that it would be very difficult to later remove a country’s status as a source of conflict minerals.