On August 23, military chief Henry Rangel Silva revealed that over 40,000 hectares of land had been recovered and 15,000 people freed from conditions of “slavery” as part of Plan Caura, the Venezuelan government’s anti-illegal mining project.
Silva, chief of Venezuela’s Operational Strategic Command, is head of the anti-illegal mining initiative, formed in 2010 when the Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB) were given the task of stemming Venezuela’s growing problem with illegal mining activities in the south eastern part of Bolivar state.
In an interview with state television station VTV, Silva condemned the clandestine mining mafias operating in the region for creating a “system of exploitation” that destroyed the environment and subjected miners to dehumanising conditions.
He said this included human trafficking and prostitution.
Silva said the FANB had reduced illegal mining activities by 85% in the state of Bolivar.
Most of the miners that the armed forces found were from Venezuela, Colombia, and Brazil and had been enticed by the idea of finding an “El Dorado”.
In reality, the miners were being heavily exploited by the mining mafias, who provided the workers with equipment and financing, but who then took the gold abroad.
“We broached the issue with intelligence work, and we arrived at a military strategy of dialogue, of interaction with the miners, because we were sure that the miner that was in the jungle was not an enemy of the armed forces,” he said.
“But if the mafias arrive in a particular place, we get there immediately to stop their activities.”
The same day, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez signed a decree nationalising Venezuela's gold industry.
Chavez said it was the first step in “putting an end to illegal mining activities”.
Chávez also signed a document allowing for the formation of majority state-owned “mixed businesses” for mining exploration and exploitation.
These businesses, formed between the state and private enterprise, will “undo the serious effects of the capitalist mining model, characterised by the degradation of the environment, irrespective of national laws, and the attack on the dignity and health of the miners and neighbouring communities”, Chavez said.
In the lead-up to signing the decree, Chavez urged the armed forces, miners, and the Venezuelan people to organise in order to make nationalisation “a reality”.
“Without you this would be impossible,” Chavez said, speaking to the workers at Minerven, Venezuela’s General Mining Company.
“I’m calling on the workers in the mining industry to join. This is for you, for the motherland. To fight against old vices.”
Workers at the company labelled the day “historic” and said they would set up committees for the defence of the nationalisation process, in response to Chavez’s appeal.
Jose Khan, minister of mining and basic industries, said these committees would unify the workers collective efforts and create “new forms of organisation”.
“We have to say with pride that this is the rescue of sovereignty,” Khan said.
“Guayana is a town with more than 300 years of historical experience in gold exploitation, and in those 300 years, we cannot say that the gold was reinvested for the benefit of those who mined it.
“Each day, it has been an impoverished town, whilst only a few benefited from that exploitation.”
[Abridged from www.venezuelanalysis.com .]