Armed gangs confound Venezuela's bid to exploit gold mines


By Anatoly Kurmanaev
The Wall Street Journal
Tuesday, May 17, 2016

LA PARAGUA, Venezuela -- Five years after Venezuela nationalized much of its mining industry, President Nicolas Maduro is inviting multinational firms back in to try to revive the country's dying economy. But standing between the companies and the minerals are up to 100,000 illegal miners and armed gangs, some of which evidently enjoy cozy relations with local military commanders.

In February, Mr. Maduro unveiled a plan to auction 27 million acres of new concessions in an area he designated as the Orinoco Mining Arc. The government estimates the area holds 7,000 tons of gold, which if certified would make Venezuela’s gold deposits second only to Australia's.

Mr. Maduro signed deals that month with China's fourth-largest coal miner Yankuang Group, construction giant China CAMC Engineering Co. and Spokane, Washington-based independent miner Gold Reserve Ltd. He said more contracts worth billions of dollars are coming.

"This is a magnificent source of wealth that will begin substituting petroleum as our only source of foreign earnings," he said.

But at the illegal Arenosa gold mine in the heart of the Orinoco Mining Arc, gang leader Ramon said he had other plans. On a recent day, dozens of his henchmen armed with pistols, shotguns, and machine guns stood guard surrounding the mines. Around them, hundreds of wildcatters dug pits with shovels amid blaring salsa music. ...

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