Chavez calls in troops to move first of 15,000 gold bars to Caracas central bank

Latin American Herald Tribune reports Venezuela's first shipment of 160 – 180 tonnes of gold held abroad was received at Maiquetia International Airport outside Caracas on Friday night.

In operation that also involved tanks and aircraft, the first of some 15,000 standard 400-ounce bars wrapped in black plastic inside a caravan of armoured vehicles escorted by 500 soldiers then made its way to the bank’s headquarters downtown. President Hugo Chavez announced in August that the South American country plans to repatriate its gold reserves held by banks in England, the US, Canada and France. The Central Bank of Venezuela already holds 154 tons of bullion domestically.

Latin American Herald Tribune reports aircraft and tanks were aslo involved in safeguarding the shipment according to General Silva of the country's strategic operational command. "Each box of gold weighs 500 kilograms and is worth about $30 million," president of Venezuela’s central bank, Nelson Merentes told gathered crowds. The country held 211 tons – nearly $11 billion worth – of its 365 tonnes of gold reserves abroad. Venezuela has the largest gold reserves in South America.

CTV reported in August Venezuela would need to transport the gold in several trips, traders said, since the high value of gold means it would be impossible to insure a single aircraft carrying 211 tonnes. It could take about 40 shipments to move the gold back to Caracas, traders estimated.

While billions of dollars worth of gold is traded every day, only a tiny proportion of it moves from vaults in London, New York and Zurich. Read more on the logistics of moving such vast amounts of gold.

At the time of the announcement of the repatriation, Chavez also announced plans to nationalize the gold mining industry. Toronto-listed Rusoro of which the government already held half, is the only large gold miner operating in Venezuela and the country does not feature in the top 20 global gold producing states. According to Bloomberg News, Venezuela produces 11 metric tonnes of gold each year, compared to global production of more than 2,400 tonnes and China’s production of more than 300 tonnes.

Click here for a video from Euronews about the shipments.