Two congressmen in Venezuela allege that members of the armed forces play a central role in the country's contraband mineral trade, yet another example of how the government is turning a blind eye to security force involvement in a range of illicit activities that are contributing to an ongoing economic, political and security crisis.
In a January 15 interview with El Nacional, congressman Américo de Grazia said, "There is no coltan, gold or diamond operation that the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana -- FANB) do not control, so the contraband of minerals is sponsored, orchestrated and executed by members of the FANB."
This isn’t the first time that de Grazia has accused the military of involvement in illegal mining. In March 2016, the opposition politician alleged that members of the armed forces were exploiting the illicit industry for their own benefit.
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Organized crime groups have historically dominated much of Venezuela's illegal mining trade. But according to de Grazia, the military controls the locations where the minerals are illegally extracted and the routes utilized to export them, thus facilitating these operations.
According to El Nacional, the government’s December 2017 approval of mining operations on 112,000 square kilometers in the states of Bolívar, Amazonas and Delta Amacuro further deepened criminality, including among the armed forces.
“In Bolívar [state], crimes and massacres in mining areas have greatly increased, and it is now common to observe them more and more frequently with the active participation of state security forces," congressman Jorge Millán, of the National Assembly's mining committee, told El Nacional.
Indeed, as InSight Crime previously reported, a wave of killings in various illegal mining zones throughout Venezuela in 2017 sparked questions about the role of security forces in the illicit industry. Despite the allegations, however, Millán told El Nacional that the government has done nothing to stop those involved.
InSight Crime Analysis
Allegations of the military’s involvement in Venezuela’s contraband mineral trade highlight another instance in which the administration of President Nicolás Maduro has turned a blind eye to alleged criminal activities on the part of security forces.
Members of Venezuela's military are no stranger to criminality. The security apparatus has long been accused of profiting from illegal gold mining in the country by supporting and providing weapons to criminal groups in exchange for a cut of the profits. Security forces have also been implicated in trafficking contraband food and fuel, as well as other key supplies in the shortage-ravaged country.
SEE ALSO: Venezuela News and Profiles
Venezuela’s deepening economic crisis is largely to blame for security forces’ increased involvement in criminal activities. According to the Venezuelan organization Control Ciudadano, the highest paid member of Venezuela’s military earns just over 4 million Bolivars (less than $50) per month. Lucrative criminal activities are all the more attractive for security forces struggling to get by.
Moreover, the Maduro administration has taken little action to address the issue. As an important pillar of support for his administration, Maduro has an interest in turning a blind eye to the military's criminal activities in order to maintain the institution's support.
As InSight Crime previously reported, the ongoing crisis in Venezuela bodes well for organized crime groups. And as security forces become increasingly involved in criminal activities -- with little accountability -- the situation is likely to continue to deteriorate.