Illegal Mining and Forestry in the Venezuelan Amazon

Illegal mining is destroying the forest and polluting the water in the Venezuelan Amazon.

The armed forces, whose duties include environmental protection, are accused by the Amerindians of complicity with the illegal miners and with the guerrillas of Colombia’s FARC, who have shifted their camps to Venezuela to evade military pressure at home.

“The guerrillas ordered the villagers not to go out at night,” says Uriel Blanco of OPIJKA, an organisation that defends the rights of the Jivi tribe. In the early hours, community leaders claim, boats laden with fuel and food head upriver to guerrilla camps.

Neither these boats nor the miners seem to have problems with checkpoints run by Mr Maduro’s National Guard. But the guard seizes game from Amerindian hunters, as well as any fuel or processed food for which they lack receipts.

The state’s Catholic bishop, José Angel Divasson, says that for the FARC, Amazonas is more than just a refuge: “It’s clear that they are trafficking drugs. Why else would they need 500-metre airstrips? The light planes go over [to Colombia] with guns and they come back with drugs.

The cocaine business, along with illegal mining of gold and coltan, a mineral used in the manufacture of electronic devices, creates an almost insatiable demand for petrol and diesel, which are heavily subsidised by the Venezuelan government.

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