Army Tackles Wildcat Gold Mines in Venezuela Jungle
Source: Reuters (4/27/10)
"This is a crime that we cannot keep on permitting. Look at how the jungle ends up."
Venezuela's southern forests contain some of Latin America's largest deposits of gold. Industrial mining is scarce in the region, but hundreds of local miners have devastated tracts of forest in the past few decades.
"This is a crime that we cannot keep on permitting. Look at how the jungle ends up," Chavez said, pointing at a photograph of a treeless expanse of red earth.
He deployed soldiers in the southern state of Bolivar to tackle the miners, who live in chaotic camps and villages known for prostitution and drunken machete fights.
Chavez said he was prepared to use more troops if necessary.
"This has to end, without killing anybody, without torturing anybody, just applying the law," he said on his weekly TV show. "We cannot allow capitalist mafias, both national and international, to keep destroying our homeland."
Previous attempts by the Chavez government to stop the mining led to violent protests by the miners and were ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the practice.
Venezuela has been slow to develop its precious metals and gemstone deposits, with only one private foreign company, Russian-Canadian Rusoro currently extracting gold. A state-run firm also owns mines.
Earlier this month, the attorney general's office said it was investigating whether the deaths of a group of Yanomami Indians were caused by mercury run-off from illegal mining camps.