On October 28, 2022, protests and the closure of trunk 10, a road that connects Puerto Ordaz with southern Venezuela to Brazil, were reported. The protests took place in the towns of Tumeremo, El Dorado and El Callao, where a considerable part of the population is dedicated to mining activities. Traders, who closed their businesses, also joined the blockade of the road. The protests were motivated by what the miners considered abuses against the population in the framework of a military operation carried out in the area.
It all started on October 17, when there was a military incursion into a mine in the Imataca sector, in the Sifontes municipality of Bolívar state. The miners denounced the eviction of the mine, the confiscation and destruction of belongings, including the gold that had been extracted by them and even the burning of a Christian church, in addition to several arrests. The military would have acted hooded and without adhering to a judicial procedure.
The militarization was extended to several towns and mines in Bolívar state, under the argument of eradicating subversive groups that control mining areas. However, the small miners denounce having been the target of military actions, despite being residents of the area with a tradition of gold mining.
This military incursion is the second in just two months, since in August 2022, the Armed Forces announced and executed the so-called “Operation Autana” with the same alleged purpose of eradicating the armed groups operating in the area. During this operation, abuses were also recorded, including the shooting death of an 18-year-old boy in Tumeremo, an act that was presented as “confrontation.” The version was denied by residents of the area who claim that the young man was persecuted and later executed. On that occasion, Trunk 10 was also closed, as a protest against the abuses of the military.
It should be remembered that the report presented to the Human Rights Council by the Independent Fact-Finding Mission (MII) includes various complaints involving military personnel with human rights violations in the Orinoco Mining Arc area, as well as their participation in actions that have led to their illicit enrichment. Everything indicates that the abuses committed by military personnel under the protection of armed forces operations, far from being reduced, are increasing, despite the accusations by the MII of many of those involved.
The MII report also collects information on the participation of members of the Colombian guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) in the area, expressing that “it has had an intermittent presence in several mining areas in the state of Bolívar, at least since 2018.” . In this regard, any initiative that has Venezuela as a space and Maduro as a mediator of the announced negotiations between the ELN and the Colombian government, must go through a serious consideration of the role of the ELN in this region of the country, as its activity is not limited to participation in gold mining, but rather exercises control over the population and territory, with consequences for the human rights of the area’s inhabitants.