A new report on human trafficking in Venezuela's Bolívar state shows that forced labor camps and sex trafficking rings are rampant in the region's illegal mines.
Men, women and children are being trafficked in a swath of Bolivar state that is part of the mining region known as the Orinoco Mining Arc, according to the report published by the Center for Human Rights at the Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas.
Desperate Venezuelans who come to the mining region in search of work are forced to labor in dangerous mining tunnels in conditions akin to slavery, according to the report's authors. Women also face being sexually exploited.
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The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in September 2020 that forced prostitution and gender-based violence had been on the rise in Venezuela's mining regions since 2016.
Women trafficked into prostitution face sickening conditions and the constant threat of violence. Women who voluntarily perform sex work also face dangers, including from the authorities. A miner told the media outlet Crónica Uno that officials with the Bolivarian National Guard (Guardia Nacional Bolivariana – GNB) have forced women to provide sexual services without paying them.
According to the report, about three-quarters of the victims of human trafficking in the region are women, a quarter of them girls and teenagers.
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Catering to an influx of miners, massive illegal mining camps, like those in Venezuela, often give rise to sex trafficking.
The Orinoco Mining Arc -- which encompasses the states of Bolívar, Amazonas and Delta Amacuro -- has seen a rash of makeshift brothels, known as “currutelas,” spring up next to the camps and in surrounding towns. Women have been reported to be trafficking victims.
Venezuela's eastern Bolívar state serves as a hotspot for sex trafficking, particularly in the municipalities of El Callao, Roscio and Sifontes, where mining activity is concentrated, according to the report.
Human trafficking has become more visible, and while there is little data available the phenomenon is alarming, according to a source at the Andrés Bello Catholic University Center for Human Rights and the Office of the Center for Human Rights at the Andrés Bello-Guayana Catholic University, who asked for anonymity for safety reasons.
Most of the profits end up with the owners of the establishments or of the criminal groups that exercise control over the region. Many of the women involved in prostitution must not only pay these groups for protection but must also use them to mediate payment disputes, according to the source.
Women who provide sexual services are often paid in the currency of the region -- gold. According to RunRun, in El Callao, Bolívar, the women earn 1.5 grams of gold for each time with a client, of which a third goes to the owner of the establishment where they work. However, the closer they are to the mine, the better the payment. The Wanaaleru Organization for Amazonian Indigenous Women has reported that women have been “sold” for between 5 and 10 grams of gold.
The relationship between illegal mining and human trafficking is also seen in other mining hotspots in Latin America, such as Peru's Madre de Dios and Colombia's Antioquia and Chocó regions. Sweeps by authorities to dismantle illegal mining camps in these regions often uncover sex trafficking networks but such operations fail to stamp out the criminal activity.