The east of Venezuela, as part of the Orinoco Mining Arc, has become a constant scene of clashes over the control of the area
At least 18 people died in a clash between military and illegal miners in eastern Venezuela. The region, rich in minerals, is the scene for frequent clashes between rival groups seeking to control the gold deposits. The clash broke out when soldiers raided an illegal gold mine in the town of Guasipati, east of the state of Bolivar, local media reported Sunday, February 11. The incident occurred the previous day in the afternoon hours.
Venezuelan authorities have not disclosed details of the operation, but an unofficial military report quoted by the French Press Agency stated that "in an exchange of shots with several suspects not yet identified left a balance of 18 dead, among them a woman". According to the partial information, it is not believed that any soldier is among the dead.
The army announced that it confiscated four assault rifles, seven pistols, three revolvers, a shotgun and two grenades, according to local newspaper Correo del Caroní. This journal added that it is believed that the deceased woman is the sister of Anderson Rodríguez Cuevas, who was the leader of one of the gangs that fight for control of the area. According to official information regarding the gangs fighting for control of the area, the woman took over the illegal execution of the Guasipati mine after the murder of her brother in September.
The opposition legislator Américo De Grazia criticized the raid on Guasipati on Sunday, February 11, and accused the government of "cleaning up" mining areas "with fire and blood". The legislator echoing the number of deaths said that relatives had described the victims as having bullets in their heads. "The killings are the state policy of the narco-dictatorship," he said, accusing the security forces by means of a message on his twitter account.
The local NGO, the Venezuelan Program and Educational Action on Human Rights (PROVEA), said in the same social media platform that the result of the operation was worrisome because it seemed to share similarities with a 2006 incident in which the army allegedly shot dead several miners in La Paragua, also in the Bolívar state.
The serious economic crisis affecting Venezuela has led hundreds of Venezuelans to establish illegal gold mining operations in the Orinoco Mining Arc, an area that stretches from the border with Guyana in the east to the border with Colombia in the west. The region has large deposits of gold, iron, diamonds, coltan, and other minerals. The area was created by the government of Nicolás Maduro to compensate for the fall in oil revenues that have aggravated the economic and political crisis in Venezuela. At the same time, the initiative aims to end a campaign against illegal mining.
In the government initiative, the participation of illegal armed groups in improvised mining has grown, which means that fighting over these valuable resources has become more common than previously thought. In 2016, 17 people died near Tumeremo in clashes between rival gangs. The bodies were found in a common grave. The city was also the scene of a clash between soldiers and miners last September in which 11 people died.
For the locals, members of the military sometimes play an active role in the criminal acts by collecting tribute from the gangs, as stated by the newspaper Correo del Caroní in one of its editorials.
Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella
Translated from " Venezuela: ¿cómo fueron los enfrentamientos entre militares y mineros?"