Venezuela deploys 5,000 soldiers in national parks to deal with illegal gold mining, drug trafficking

Venezuelan soldiers in Indigenous town in the Amazonas state. (Image by the Operational Strategic Commander of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, Twitter.)

The Venezuelan government has deployed over 5,000 soldiers in the country’s national parks with the goal of evicting criminal groups leading illegal gold mining and drug trafficking operations.

According to the Operational Strategic Commander of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, Domingo Hernández Lárez, thousands of litres of fuel, hundreds of engines, rafts, pipes, processing plants, chemical agents, camping gear and other materials are being destroyed on a daily basis during military operations carried out in tandem with the neighbouring Colombian armed forces. 

As an example, he noted that last Thursday, 100,000 litres of fuel used for illegal mining were seized in the Yapacana national park, located in the southern Amazonas state near the border with Brazil and Colombia. A month ago, what he called a “logistic system” of illegal mining was also dismantled in the same area. 

“They [the criminal groups] disrespect all kinds of codes and territorial regulations related to the protection of the Amazon basin and its tributaries,” Hernández Lárez said in a series of social media posts. “[The operations] are carried out with the aim of eradicating the devastating scourge caused by the lack of consciousness of these armed outlaws.”

The Commander said that the deployment of military personnel will continue and likely expand to all areas that are to be protected by the State. 

Despite these recent efforts, the Venezuelan military has been repeatedly accused by NGOs and intergovernmental organizations of allowing criminal groups to exploit and smuggle the country’s gold resources. 

In 2022, an independent international fact-finding Mission set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council issued a report stating that a significant part of the destruction of Venezuela’s national parks and protected areas in the southern states is caused by concessions granted by the Nicolás Maduro administration to the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Colombian guerrilla group.

The group has divided the region into several chunks ruled by so-called unions that, in addition to carrying out illegal mining and logging, trafficking drugs, arms, fuel, medicine and food, create modern slavery situations and attack Indigenous communities.  

“Venezuelan military units allow and sometimes facilitate, ELN activities to drive out rival criminal armed groups,” the report reads. “Additionally, the ELN relies on a network of smugglers and mules who pay bribes to cross GNB (Venezuelan army) lines and armed group checkpoints to bring gold to the Colombian border.”