Why Project SOSOrinoco? The purpose of SOSOrinoco is to shed light on the existing body of work regarding the situation in the Amazonia and Orinoquia regions of Venezuela, to raise awareness of the tragedy that is occurring and to outline some urgent measures that need to be taken in order to halt the unfolding human and environmental disaster.
SOSOrinoco is an advocacy group started in 2018 by a group of experts inside and outside of Venezuela. They have been working anonymously, concealing the names of team members and witnesses, due to the high risk of doing this type of research in Venezuela.
Their commitment has been to document and create an in-depth diagnostic of the region South of the Orinoco River and to raise awareness about the tragedy that is occurring, as well as to outline urgent measures that need to be taken in order to halt this disaster.
Our position on the Orinoco Mining Arc
(Arco Minero del Orinoco)
The Maduro regime has designated a vast expanse of Venezuela’s territory (111,843 km2), consisting of a wide crescent-shaped belt, located in the southern part of the country, spreading inland from the right bank of the Orinoco River, as “The Mining Arc of the Orinoco,” a rubric that serves as the hallmark of the new policy of opening up this territory to general mining operations; however, this policy is driven mainly by the greed for gold and coltan.
In a strictly technical sense, this appears to be a policy framework whereby the government is using a geographical expression to announce that it will be promoting mining operations. In a situation of legal and political normality, this would be its true meaning, but in reality, the Mining Arc is nothing more than what might be called the arrogant and defiant public manifestation of a failed state’s intention to promote anarchy and the plundering of the Venezuelan nation’s mineral wealth.
The Mining Arc does not limit itself to its designated 111,843 km2 surface area covering the northern and eastern part of the state of Bolívar, an area larger than either Portugal or Cuba, in that it represents a government policy that affects all of southern Venezuela, as well as the entire country.
In reality, this policy of promoting anarchy and the expansion and intensification of mining operations has spilled over to locations that are outside the geographical area of the Mining Arc, namely Canaima National Park, the Paragua River basin, the mid and upper basin of the Caura River (Caura National Park), Yapacana National Park, the Upper Orinoco-Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve, the entire northern part of the state of Amazonas and its southern area along the border with Colombia. The repercussions of the Mining Arc have reached as far as the states of Carabobo and Cojedes, in north-central Venezuela, where mining operations are being consolidated, and where at least three important mining sites have been established following the same pattern as found in the state of Bolívar.
On the one hand, ever since the Mining Arc was first announced in 2016, it is common knowledge there has been a proliferation of permit applications and contacts between the government and shell corporations intending to conduct mining operations, basically for gold and coltan, all done in apparent adherence to administrative procedures governing mining operations, but on the other hand, in reality, what is happening out in the field is the intensification and expansion of mining operations by irregular actors that are being shielded by the government.
These irregular actors are:
- Criminal organizations, known as “syndicates” or “pranatos,” whose leaders are inmates, known as “pranes,” that operate out of Venezuela’s prisons; paramilitary groups, known as “colectivos,” controlled by the government; and foreign paramilitary groups, namely the Colombian guerrilla organizations ELN and FARC, whose operational presence in Venezuela is by agreement with the Maduro regime. These irregular actors are basically the operating entities in charge of maintaining territorial control over the mines, and they are the ones who supervise and control the miners.
- Private investors are also fundamental to the structure and are basically business people or investors from the state of Bolívar and from throughout the entire country, and they provide the financial resources and enter as financial partners in this unprecedented criminal scheme.
- Venezuelan military officers from the four branches of the Bolivarian Armed Force, as well as members of state and national security agencies, namely the SEBIN, PNB, CICP, DGICIM and the state of Bolívar’s police force, are the topmost actors. They are ultimately in charge of controlling this intricate scheme and are the ones that work within this entire system intent on resorting to violence whenever it is deemed necessary. Furthermore, they are the ones that keep a sizeable share of the booty, either in cash or in extracted mineral products such as gold, diamonds or coltan.
Amidst all this complexity, the mechanism is quite simple: promote anarchy and, within this anarchy, set up bottlenecks or chokepoints that are structured according to the most elementary and absolute forms of violence, whereby military officers and civilians from the upper echelons of the regime, namely the ruling political party, intercept and seize a goodly proportion of the flow of mineral products and cash. This is the reality of the Mining Arc.
The procedures for obtaining contracts and concessions, within the tradition of the government’s oversight of mining operations, are now being used as a charade for justifying the immense flow of money and mineral products that may or may not be detected or traced. The partakers in these procedures are mostly shell corporations belonging to Venezuela’s “new entrepreneurs” or to persons or corporations from countries such as Turkey or China that have no traditional association with mining operations in Venezuela and have no background as investors in the country. And one must not overlook the “military enterprises” that have been incorporated within a framework of questionable legality, and which are also participating in this charade.
The Mining Arc has no formal structure or geographic boundaries, given that it is more a policy rubric than an actual project. It does not obey or respect mining or environmental laws. This policy has not generated a single technical study that would substantiate it in a geological or environmental sense, not to mention the social dimension. Not a single socio-environmental study has been implemented, as required by the Constitution. While an absurd Ministry of Ecological Mining and a so-called Misión Piar provide some semblance of institutionalism, the fact remains that the only actors are the regime’s political commissars that are in charge of oiling the intricate criminal machinery used for ransacking and pillaging the nation’s wealth.
The Mining Arc phenomenon does not take into ethical consideration its social and cultural impact. It promotes prostitution, slave labor, child labor, and fundamentally speaking, the dismantling of indigenous social structures. The only “indigenous resistance” that has existed has been resistance to the Mining Arc, but it has been obliterated by acts of violence in countless silent killings that have occurred in recent years, where the victims have been indigenous persons who had become miners, especially in the massacre that took place in Santa Elena de Uairén in February of 2019.
The political echelons of the indigenous self-governments have been dismantled and reorganized to conform with the hegemony of the government’s ruling party, and the indigenous communities have been pushed into confrontations against each other over issues that are tribal, such as ancestral rivalries; religious, such as Catholics versus Evangelicals; and political, such as the ruling party versus the opposition. In order to expedite this, the regime has resorted to threats of violence and the distribution of money and gifts. The indigenous peoples have found themselves defenseless in this setting that has been brought about by a humanitarian crisis having no precedent in the country’s history.
On balance, Venezuela’s mining industry, as represented in the Mining Arc, has become an activity that is imbued in a vast organized crime scheme that reaches all levels of Venezuela’s political and military power structure.
Call to Action
At this time when the international community is actively denouncing and holding accountable the Maduro regime for human rights abuses, the mounting humanitarian and democratic crises, the environmental and human rights abuses that are occurring in the Southern region of Venezuela should be added to the long list.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates and news and use #SOSOrinoco
- Join/sign our petition to UNESCO to include Canaima World Heritage Site on the World Heritage Site in Danger List
- Write to us with ideas
- Volunteer: if you would like to help, please tell us how and we’ll be happy to enlist you in this important endeavor
- Donate to help SOS Orinoco continue to report and denounce