HomeNewsBriefVenezuela Investigates Police in Miner Massacre
BRIEF

Venezuela Investigates Police in Miner Massacre

ILLEGAL MINING / 17 MAR 2016 BY VENEZUELA INVESTIGATIVE UNIT EN

Venezuela's investigative police has launched an internal investigation into the recent murder of 17 gold miners, in a case that has become the center of a political war between the socialist government and the opposition. 

The director of Venezuela's investigative police force (Cuerpo de Investigaciones Científicas, Penales y Criminalísticas - CICPC), Douglas Rico, stated that a number of local officers will be dismissed as part of the case, while the Attorney General's Office may also initiate its own investigations against the military and police, reported the Associated Press

On March 14, authorities discovered the bodies of 17 miners in a mass grave in the southeastern state of Bolívar, of which 14 have been fully identified. The victims had reportedly been executed, most of them with bullets to the head.

According to witness testimony, a group of 60 armed individuals -- some of whom were dressed as civilians while others wore uniforms belonging to Venezuela's Bolivarian Intelligence Service (Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional - SEBIN) and the CICPC -- participated in the miners' disappearance. They were allegedly following the instructions of the criminal gang leader identified as being responsible for the disappearances, Ecuadorian national Jamilton Andrés Ulloa Suárez, alias "El Topo."

Authorities have made at least one arrest in the case and are searching for three suspects, including El Topo.

InSight Crime Analysis

The massacre of the miners has inflamed already tense relations between the socialist government of President Nicolás Maduro and the opposition-led National Assembly. 

Various conflicting theories have emerged surrounding the mass disappearance. On the one hand, Maduro's administration has speculated that the miners may have been victims of a "gang war massacre" perpetrated by El Topo and his henchmen, who government officials say has links to the demobilized Colombian paramilitary organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC).

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Mining

Opposition politicians, on the other hand, have pointed fingers at the military, flagging up the armed forces' long-standing collusion with criminal groups in the area. Congressman Américo de Grazia recently claimed that he was receiving death threats after denouncing the disappearances. The congressman has also suggested that the disappearances are the result of a government "cleansing" in the area in order to allow multinational gold mining companies to enter the region.

Both versions of events have their plausible aspects. Four criminal gangs reportedly operate in Bolívar, where violent clashes related to the mining trade are frequent. Locals have also suggested that a turf dispute was behind this most recent massacre. Security forces, meanwhile, have reportedly colluded with criminal groups in the past to extort miners and run protection rackets in Bolívar.

While the truth remains out of reach for now, the politicization of this case threatens to overshadow the more fundamental dynamics at work, which are the increasing sophistication of organized crime in Venezuela, and the government's failures to address this phenomenon.

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

CARIBBEAN / 29 JUN 2021

The owner of an armored transport company has been charged for his part in a transnational dirty gold network that…

ARGENTINA / 23 DEC 2021

A spree of illegal fishing occurred across Latin America this past year, much of it driven by competition for diminishing…

ELITES AND CRIME / 11 APR 2022

Elements of the Venezuelan underworld, whether drug cartels, street gangs or illegal mining groups, have hit upon a unique way…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…