HomeNewsAnalysisVenezuela Indigenous Communities at Risk From ELN Mining Incursions
ANALYSIS

Venezuela Indigenous Communities at Risk From ELN Mining Incursions

ELITES AND CRIME / 31 JUL 2020 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

Recent incursions by the ELN to set up illegal mining facilities along the Caura River in central Venezuela are being seen as a threat by local Indigenous communities.

In mid-July, opposition lawmaker Américo de Grazia wrote on Twitter that a group of 60 men belonging to Colombia’s National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional — ELN) had moved into in the municipality of Maripa in Bolívar state, allegedly to “protect” mining operations there.

Since May, Indigenous communities in Maripa have been warning that an increase in gold mining along the Caura River was worsening an irreversible “ecological and social crisis,” according to Kapé Kapé, a non-governmental organization helping Indigenous communities in Venezuela. Other reports have stated that ex-FARC Mafia groups, who refused to demobilize during the 2016 peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — FARC), are also operating in the area.

In early May, irregular armed groups assassinated at least two, and possibly as many as 13 people, from the Yekuana Indigenous group, which had been protesting the installation of new mining rafts on the Caura River. Américo de Grazia blamed the killings on the ELN, which had allegedly been tasked with guarding the new installations.

SEE ALSO: What Is Behind Killings in Venezuela Illegal Mining Regions

This violence has accompanied a May decree by the Venezuelan government that opened up mining along the Caura, Cuchivero, Aro, Yuruari, Cuyuní and Caroní rivers. However, according to local communities, this exploitation has seen illegal groups, such as the ELN, move in to offer protection to the new mining installations.

As part of its expansion into Venezuela, the ELN has set up a presence in the country’s main mining areas, including Bolívar. In October 2018, the ELN was reportedly responsible for the massacre of seven miners in Sifontes, Bolívar, near the Venezuela-Guyana border.

InSight Crime Analysis

Attempts to control mining operations along the Caura River and its surrounding areas appear to be organized jointly by the ELN and elements within the Venezuelan government.

While InSight Crime has not confirmed the ELN’s role in the Yekuana killings in May, the guerrillas are known to be cooperating with state actors in illegal mining operations in other parts of Bolívar and have been implicated in several massacres related to control of mineral deposits.

The mining sector, especially gold, has become a financial lifeline for the Venezuelan government. Since 2016, President Nicolás Maduro has made a series of attempts to increase his control over this lucrative economy, especially in the Orinoco Mining Belt, which includes the Caura River.

SEE ALSO: Venezuela Relies on Gold as Other Criminal Economies Dry Up

An important part of this strategy has reportedly been to let the ELN assume control of much of these operations, driving out other armed groups and ensuring miners pay a portion of their revenue.

“The Maduro government wants to clean up Bolívar’s mining areas with the help of the ELN. It knows that the best way to ensure control of that region without getting its hands dirty is through a clandestine collaboration with this guerrilla group,” Américo de Grazia told InSight Crime.

And Indigenous communities are paying the price. The Yek’wana, Sanemá and Hoti Indigenous communities who live along the Caura River basin have been suffering from violence and environmental destruction brought about by mining for years.

“Indigenous peoples are caught in an economic trap from which they cannot escape. The pressure exerted by both state actors and organized criminal groups and the scarce job opportunities has led them to work in these mines and renounce their ancestral traditions,” Olnar Ortiz, a Venezuelan lawyer and defender of Indigenous rights, told InSight Crime.

In a July 15 report, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights explained that the expansion of illegal mining activity in the Orinoco Mining Belt “affects the enjoyment of the individual and collective rights of Indigenous people, due to the destruction of their habitat and the lack of control over their traditional territories and natural resources.”

Compartir icon icon icon

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.

Related Content

CACHIROS / 4 AUG 2014

The recent arrest of a member of an alleged Honduran drug trafficking family in Florida is another subtle sign that…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 8 SEP 2015

Authorities say increasingly modified and modernized handmade firearms have surfaced in Honduras, but the real problem remains the prevalence of…

INFOGRAPHICS / 3 FEB 2014

Since our last article in this series there have been significant changes in the administration of citizen security in Venezuela.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…