Venezuelan opposition MP Américo De Grazia issued a statement on social media saying that the Nicolás Maduro regime has allowed terrorist group National Liberation Army (ELN in Spanish) to control mining activities and drug trafficking in the Orinoco Mining Arc.
The Arc, officially known as the Mining Arc of the Orinoco River National Development Strategic Zone, is a 111,843 square-kilometre concession area that is equivalent to 12.2% of the country’s landmass and that is located along the eastern Bolívar, Amazonas and Delta Amacuro states. In this area, gold, diamond, iron ore, copper, bauxite, coltan, among other resources are allowed to be mined.
According to De Grazia, however, the Arc has been expanding beyond the legally permitted areas and destructive operations are now taking place in protected spaces such as the Canaima National Park, which was named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1962.
National parks and reserves in the region have been traditionally inhabited by different Indigenous groups whose members add up to 50,000 people. Many of them have protested against mining operations in their traditional territories.
Others – De Grazia said – have been forced into mining because when they try to leave their remote settlements, government officials ask them for gold in exchange for fuel. In fact, some researchers have said that there is a parallel Indigenous mining arc developing in southeastern Venezuela.
“They [government officials] start telling them that by going into artisanal mining they can progress and they even give them supplies. Then, they are assaulted, massacres occur and ‘the saviours of the Indigenous people’ come in. These ‘saviours’ are gang leaders from the ELN, which is a terrorist group that was born in Colombia but that is controlled from Cuba,” De Grazia said.
The MP, who hails from the Bolívar state, reminded his followers that before the Hugo Chávez and Maduro regimes took over, First Nations’ economy was based on tourism, hunting and fishing.