Mining and trafficking

Illicit mining in Venezuela creates demand for human trafficking and prostitution.

A September 2020 report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, and a 2021 report on modern slavery published the by Centre of Human Rights at Andrés Bello Catholic University in Caracas denounced the existence of forced labour camps and sexual exploitation practices in illegal mining sites in Venezuela’s Orinoco mining arc.

The illicit mining industry in Venezuela has boomed in recent months amid worsening economic conditions in the country, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The southern states of Bolívar, Apure and Amazonas are home to a number of transnational illegal mining operations and associated exploitative and other trading activities carried out by criminal groups. A human rights activist confirms, “The Bolívar State in southeaster Venezuela has become a centre for the trafficking and smuggling of women for prostitution due to the fact that there is significant illegal mining activity and because the Bolívar State has borders with Colombia, Brazil and Guyana.”

“The Bolívar State in southeaster Venezuela has become a centre for the trafficking and smuggling of women for prostitution.”

Human rights activist, Venezuela

It has been alleged that Colombian guerrillas such as FARC dissidents, the National Liberation Front and corrupt Bolivarian National Armed Forces of Venezuela share in the proceeds of illegal mining and human trafficking and so turn a blind eye to these criminal activities.

The human rights activist explained, “These groups do not intervene in the prostitution business, but do maintain order around it. The business of these irregular armed groups consists of collecting taxes from those who exploit gold and other minerals or anyone who carries out any economic activity, including prostitution.

These groups do not intervene in the prostitution business, but do maintain order around it.”

Human rights activist, Venezuela

According to the Andrés Bello Catholic University report, three quarters of the victims of human trafficking in the region are women, a quarter of whom are girls and teenagers. Furthermore, women involved in prostitution are often required to pay criminal groups for protection. Paid in gold, one third of the 1.5 grams earned per client goes to the owner of the site.

Local authorities have failed to investigate and prosecute human rights violations in criminal sites. Despite this, Venezuelan health authorities regularly visit these towns to carry out health checks on prostitutes, with the permission of these irregular armed groups.

A physician with experience of the local reality explained, “If a woman contracts a sexually transmitted disease, the irregular armed groups order her to leave the mining town immediately. If she refuses, she has her head shaved, is publicly flogged and then expelled. The same treatment is applied to any woman who commits theft or fraud or who generates a sentimental conflict between the men of the town.”

With the authorities incapable of dismantling the criminal groups, sexual exploitation, child labour, human trafficking and environmental destruction have become commonplace in Venezuela’s Orinoco mining arc.

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