Following a recent operation against illegal mining in Venezuela’s Amazon region, the Operational Strategic Commander of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB), Domingo Hernández Lárez, said on Sunday that the government is working to determine the proper course of action against people comitting ecocide.
In a statement made public via social media, Hernández Lárez pointed out that, through ongoing military incursions, the Armed Forces will continue evicting illegal gold miners from the Yapacana National Park, located in the southern Amazonas state near the border with Brazil and Colombia. The park is home to the Ye’kuana First Nation.
Earlier this week, military personnel clashed against armed civilians operating illegally in the Monterrey sector of the national park, near the El Cacique mine. The skirmish ended up with two people dead and six injured, including three soldiers.
“Within the framework of the 5th National Strategic Objective of the Homeland Plan to protect people and nature, and in accordance with the laws of the Republic, which are of mandatory compliance, as a duty and right to preserve the environment, the FANB activated Operation Bolivarian Shield ‘Autana 2023’,” the Commander said, in reference to the incident. “With the participation of a multidisciplinary team, we will establish individual criminal responsibilities for environmental crimes and attacks on the sentinels of the sovereign homeland.”
However, human rights and political organizations are calling for an investigation into the military actions in the remote region, as there are suspicions of indiscriminate targeting of civilians.
Yet, according to Hernández Lárez, his subordinates conduct themselves with the utmost respect towards human life and are looking after the natural areas that have been destroyed by what he called “criminal groups that build shelters and distribution centers” in protected areas.
Only in Yapacana, the military has evicted over 12,000 illegal miners since July 1, 2023, when Venezuela’s ruler Nicolás Maduro issued a call to dismantle unregulated activities in the Amazon.
Media reports have shown that the area hosts at least 70 illegal mining hubs and that such operations have spoiled 934 hectares of forest.
According to government officials, the plan is to carry out a restoration program once all illegal miners have been evacuated, with a particular focus on cleaning up the mercury they use in the gold recovery process.
In spite of these efforts, the 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.