HomeNewsIs Evacuation of 8,600 Venezuelan Miners Just Another Smokescreen? 

Is Evacuation of 8,600 Venezuelan Miners Just Another Smokescreen? 


Venezuelan military officials claim to have “voluntarily evacuated” thousands of miners from Amazonas state’s Yapacana National Park in an eye-catching but opaque operation that critics say has had little impact on the area’s gold mining economy and the armed groups that profit from it. 

From July 1 to August 13, the Venezuelan military reported removing 8,660 unauthorized miners operating in the protected national park as part of Operation Bolivarian Shield Autana 2023 (Operación Escudo Bolivariano Autana). The operation, which started in December 2022, seeks to eradicate illegal gold mining in Venezuela’s southern state of Amazonas, which is rich in natural resources and has seen an explosion of wildcat gold mining since 2016.  

SEE ALSO: In Venezuela, Contraband Networks Supply Rampant Wildcat Mining 

Some of the earliest forced displacements were from a mine known as La Bulla, one of the area’s least productive mines, according to a miner who spoke to InSight Crime after trying to find work there in May 2023. Other evacuations have taken place in mines known as La 40 and Caño Jabón. One local investigator described both sites as “minitas,” or little mines, that pale in comparison to other areas in the park. 

Authorities have not specified from which other mines people have been evacuated, although Yapacana National Park is home to over 4,100 mining camps, according to satellite image analysis by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP). Indigenous rights organization Kapé Kapé has estimated the number of unauthorized miners operating in these areas is between 15,000 and 18,000.   

Two Colombian guerrilla groups, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) and the ex-FARC Acacio Medina Front, reap massive profits from these mines, controlling nearly all economic activity in the area, including gold mining, gold sales, fuel distribution, and contraband. However, there have been no clashes between the military and guerrilla groups, and officials have not reported arrests from either group. 

InSight Crime Analysis

This is the first mass displacement of miners from Yapacana, but a lack of transparency and a seeming failure to target the mining interests of guerrilla groups have left more questions than answers. 

Both the ELN and Acacio Medina Front are reported to maintain mutually beneficial political and economic ties with military and political figures in Amazonas, giving reason to doubt the operation's intention to combat the armed groups behind the region’s mining operations.  

A local investigator working with a non-governmental organization and an Indigenous lawyer, both of whom requested anonymity for security reasons, reported to InSight Crime that the guerrillas left the immediate areas where soldiers had been deployed, suggesting the possibility of collusion between the military and the groups.  

SOS Orinoco, a nonprofit dedicated to reporting on Venezuela’s mining region, has called Operation Autana a “media show,” referencing the near-constant attention it has received on military officials’ social media accounts. “The situation [the military] describe to the media is different from what we have lived,” explained an Indigenous miner who was evacuated and who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals. “We did not consider it humane treatment.” 

SEE ALSO: Venezuela Security Policy: Illegal Mining and Deforestation

What’s more, there do not appear to be any plans to compensate displaced miners or give them job training in other fields, many of whom came to the mines out of economic desperation. Both miners who spoke to InSight Crime reported that they were left to fend for themselves outside of the park, despite officials’ early statements that the military would provide humanitarian aid as part of the operation.  

“These evacuations … have continued displacing us from one region to the next,” lamented one of the displaced miners. Some of their fellow miners stayed in Amazonas’ capital city of Puerto Ayacucho, and some crossed the border into Colombia’s department of Guainía, they said. Meanwhile, they claimed others have already returned to the same mines that the military said it had dismantled. 

Official reports claim that soldiers have set up checkpoints to keep evacuees from returning, but sources doubt the military’s ability and willingness to maintain control.  

“People keep working in the mines. They come and go, that’s no secret,” said one displaced miner, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that corruption among the armed forces has allowed mining activities to continue. 

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