HomeNewsAnalysisVenezuela Disease Outbreaks Reveal Criminal Migration to Illegal Gold Mines
ANALYSIS

Venezuela Disease Outbreaks Reveal Criminal Migration to Illegal Gold Mines

ILLEGAL MINING / 19 JUN 2019 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

Outbreaks of malaria and diphtheria in a region of Venezuela where these diseases are rare has revealed how armed groups are organizing a vast migration to illegal mines.

The outbreaks show that criminals operating in the state of Miranda found a way to make money amid the country’s worsening crisis by moving into the illegal gold mines of Bolívar state, in the south of Venezuela.

In the middle of 2017, doctors witnessed an unusual, sustained and inexplicable malaria outbreak in Valles del Tuy, a region in the state of Miranda located between the coast and the center of Venezuela where the mosquito-borne disease is seldom seen, Efecto Cocuyo reported.

The startling epidemic offered the first clue to the changing criminal dynamics in the region.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles

“Malaria was not a disease native to states in the center of the country, so this caught our attention. We started to ask patients about it to find out how they contracted it. The surprise came when one of the patients told me that he had caught it in the mining region in the state of Bolívar, where they went to work in gold mining”, explained a doctor whose practice is in Charallave, the municipal seat in Cristóbal Rojas municipality in Miranda state. The doctor asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Pressured by the economic situation and massive inflation, residents of the Valles del Tuy region began working during their vacations in the illegal mines in Bolívar, more than 500 kilometers away. The doctor said that they were recruited by pranes, or prison gang bosses, who had previously been the leaders of local megabandas in Valles del Tuy.

The megabandas’ grip on Valles del Tuy began in 2013, when various sites were converted into so-called peace zones, areas where security forces could not enter.

Later, when kidnappings and extortion stopped being profitable in the poor areas where they operated, members of the same megabandas migrated to the mining region in search of other sources of income, and to escape police and military raids.

InSight Crime Analysis

Criminals are not immune to the effects of Venezuela’s current economic, political and social crisis.

Many criminals, primarily pranes and leaders of megabandas, have been forced to abandon their former strongholds and change the pattern of their criminal activities, according to investigations conducted by InSight Crime.

Criminals are trading robbery, petty theft, and kidnappings for drug trafficking and illegal mining. Additionally, they are migrating to states where these illicit economies are strongest: Sucre, Zulia, Táchira and Bolívar. In the south of Venezuela, Bolívar has become the principal destination for the pranes of Valles del Tuy.

Ramón Terán Rico, alias “Monchi,” for example, was the leader of one of the largest criminal organizations in the state of Miranda. Community representatives told InSight Crime that he fled to Bolívar's mines two years ago.

Monchi was the first crime boss to try his luck at the Orinoco Mining Arc, a transnational mining project created in 2016. He gradually moved his henchmen there from the Valles del Tuy. Sources in his circle of friends say that he even purchased his own dredge to extract gold.

Leaders of other criminal structures operating in the Valles del Tuy have also had to reinvent themselves in order to survive, and have moved into southern Venezuelan states where they operate comfortably.

Hundreds of residents of the towns in Valles del Tuy have migrated to the mining region. “All of the families here have at least one person that has gone to work in the mines,” said a resident of Ocumare del Tuy in Miranda state, who reports seeing his neighbors’ children and relatives head for the mines.

In November 2016, a case of diphtheria, an acutely infectious disease of the throat, was detected in the Súcuta sector of Ocumare del Tuy, alerting health authorities to the re-emergence of a disease rarely seen in the center of the country.

Follow-up with the patient found that he had contracted the infection in the Bolívar mines.

Health authorities developed prevention plans targeted at the neighborhoods where criminal groups operate. Investigations conducted by health authorities demonstrated that the men that go to work in the mines, as well sex workers or women who work in the kitchens there, carried these diseases back to the Valles del Tuy.

The public health problem shed light on the fact that an illegal gold mining fever had emerged -- an economic lifeline that is now strengthening organized crime.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HOMICIDES / 16 MAR 2012

Some 26 Caracas police officers have been murdered so far this year, and analysts warn that they may be being…

CARTEL OF THE SUNS / 11 JAN 2019

The swearing in of Nicolás Maduro for a second presidential term demonstrates just how deeply entrenched organized crime structures are…

COLOMBIA / 4 DEC 2019

For the second consecutive year, some of Latin America’s leading academics and experts in the field of organized crime convened…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…

THE ORGANIZATION

Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…