Photos: Wilmer González retrieved

In the face of pressure and censorship, Venezuelan independent media resist and strive trying to break the barriers imposed by the hegemony. Indeed, many media outlets’ work has been recognized abroad. A recent example is the award given to Guayana newspaper Correo del Caroní and Brazilian outlet InfoAmazonia for their joint special report “Digging into the Mining Arc”.

Sadly, celebration has been kept in the shadows because photojournalist Wilmer González has been missing for more than six months.

Wilmer González has been missing for more than six months.

“…He was last seen in February before going to work at a mine in Piacoa, Delta Amacuro State, Venezuela.

The last telephone call with his family occurred in the first week of March. Since then, they have not heard of him, though Wilmer had always kept in touch with his family, especially his children. The decision to work for some time in the mines was a result of the country’s economic situation and the need to bring money home.”

By Wilmer González, 2018, retrieved from Mongabay Latam

The family reported the disappearance to the Criminal Investigations Police (CICPC), but there have been no breaks in the case. For fear of retaliation, they preferred not to make it public until now. Fellow photojournalist German Dam said the CICPC hasn’t followed the leads given by the family.

Reporter Bram Ebus, who worked with González in “Digging into the Mining Arc”, shared this message about Wilmer on Twitter: “(González) isn’t just a personal friend and an excellent photojournalist for Correo del Caroní; he was indispensable for our project. It wouldn’t have been possible without him.” He dedicated the award given by the Online News Association to him.

The family reported the disappearance to the Criminal Investigations Police (CICPC), but there have been no breaks in the case.

The report has been praised for its innovative approach with their use of information, images and videos, thanks to the efforts of both media outlets involved.

Besides his eight-year-long work with Correo del Caroní, González worked with other media outlets, domestic and foreign. Back in 2014, he and reporter Diogelis Pocaterra were attacked by an irregular armed group while covering a protest in Puerto Ordaz.

In recent years, Correo del Caroní has been on a fierce struggle against the effects of Newsprint-geddon and direct attacks against its leadership. This award is a great incentive for them to continue working. Especially when other local papers are facing the crunch.

But this report also calls attention to what is probably one of the most problematic issues that we’re not paying enough attention to: the Orinoco Mining Arc. Even if the word “ecocide” is used lightly sometimes, the evidence shows that what’s happening there fits that description. And the grave implications of it are not just for Venezuelans alone. Just ask the Guyanese.

We hope that Wilmer González is alive and well, so he can reunite with his family and his friends.

By Wilmer González, 2018, retrieved from Mongabay Latam
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29 COMMENTS

  1. I posted here a number of weeks ago about a conversation I had with a local who was working the mines. Much as I figured, they’re strip mining the surface leaving huge scars on the land. The worst though was his comment that they’re using mercury to extract the gold. That process involves mixing mercury with the residue from the washing process and then heating it to drive off the mercury leaving behind the gold.

    Mercury is an extremely difficult metal to handle and I’m sure huge amounts of it are being lost into the environment. It’s also a dangerous metal to handle. By breathing the fumes, it enters the bloodstream via the lungs and is only very slowly excreted from the body over time. My company worked with mercury in our laboratories. Employees were routinely tested and if blood levels spiked beyond a certain point, the employee had to be reassigned elsewhere until the concentration reached acceptable levels.

    As for the disappearance of photojournalist Wilmer González, if he was actively covering the destruction of the environment of that area, no surprise that he’d be “disappeared”. For what little law there is in this country, there is even less in the mining arc. I hope he’s returned safely to his family.

    • Triaxial shear testing of soil and rock is common, and back in the day one method used “mercury pots” to create the axial pressures. They were small containers of mercury attached to a tube, and you raised or lowered the “pot” to vary the pressures on the sample.

      Long story short, sometimes the tube broke, or a clumsy technician wold drop a pot (they were heavy), etc., and the lab always had little puddles of mercury running around on the floor.

      I always figured I would be even smarter than I am now if it hadn’t been for those three years working with that lab.

      • For us Larry, it was using mercury, at reservoir temperature, to apply pressure to reservoir fluids in a PVT (pressure, volume, temperature) cell performing reservoir fluid analyses. Also known as phase behavior studies in the industry.

        Nothing transfers fluids from point A to point B and mixes them better than mercury.

        We kept our labs at a chilly 65F or below because the vapor loss of mercury to the atmosphere about doubles between 65F and 70F. You can imagine the risks of cleaning a PVT cell that was filled with mercury at 250F or so. And we were so busy that it was rare that we could let the mix cool to room temperature before cleaning the cell for the next study.

        It seems I managed to come through it all right even though I worked with the stuff for years. Don’t believe me? Just ask canucklehead about my sanity. LOL

    • The mercury is a big sleeping problem, the expression “mad as a hatter” was a result of mercury being used in that industry. Even the episodes of “Gold Rush: Alaska” that were filmed in Guyana showed the tell-tale “spongy” gold that is the pay dirt that remains after the mercury is boiled off.

  2. Another example of what I mean by KLEPTOzuela.

    Crime and theft are everywhere. At all levels. Every remaining industry, private and public, service or production, food, agriculture, marine, minerals, service industries, financial services, you name it. All full of thugs. From the lowest ‘obreros’, ofice clerks, secretarias, to mid-management, to upper management.

    Not just “el gobielno”. Not just “Chavismo”. NO.

    El Pueblo. And then some. White collar crime, blue collar crime. Adecos, copeyanos, socialistas, capitalistas, comunistas, campesinos, whatever. The 2 basic characters trait they often share – and which go hand-in-hand – are MASSIVE IGNORANCE and GALACTIC CORRUPTION.

    Which is what inevitably happens when you let a bunch of INDIANS (Chavez/Masburro, etc, etc) take control of El Coroto and the Armed Forces (More Indians, on uniform). The RULE of LAW is crushed, and the tropical KLEPTOCRACY begins, and spreads very rapidly, a veritable cancer metastasis, like wild fire.

    You simply cannot let a bunch of uneducated, highly corruptible indians on the lose, without laws and stiff punishment. That’s what happened in KLEPTOzuela. The Indians (Chabestias) took over at the top, and their plan was to abolish laws, and corrupt everyone. El Pueblo. First, the Military, of course. Promote up to 2000 “Generals”, who are often ignorant-corrupt pueblo themselves, heck even Padrino can hardly babble some Spanish. Then let lose with organized crime rings: The “Pranes”, as they are called in Mining here.

    And so the crime spreads. From Top to bottom. But also from Bottom to top. Corrupt Indians everywhere. At all levels. After the few educated, honest people are expelled, Crime and Massive Theft is what rules everywhere. Thus, KLEPTOzuela. Not Chavismo. Not “socialismo” or “revolucion”. It spreads even into the so-called “opposition, the freaking MUDcrap. Disguised, of course. The recipe was partly from Cuba, but also spontaneous reactions in Venezuela, a rich country of highly corruptible monkeys, for the most part.

    That is how the shit hit the fan. That is why “Chavismo” is strong after more than 2 decades. The CORRUPT INDIANS rule, at all levels, by the MILLIONS and MILLIONS. El Pueblo, plus the slightly more educated and more perverse ex-pueblo, filth like Delcy or Aristobulo and every single employee in every “ministry” and every military dude, at ALL levels, from the corrupt soldiers to the corrupt tenientes and up. Military pueblo, uneducated, ignorant thieves, corrupt. Private industry? Same shit. Under-educated indios is what’s left, for the most part. Corrupt thieves, by the Tens of Thousands. Call them Pueblo Ladron de Cuello Blanco.

    Chavismo was the result – not the cause – of Kleptozuela’s disaster. Chabestia was a tipical pueblo dude, just a bit samrter and charismatic. He reflected the crap El Pueblo was. How dumb and ignorant they are. How corruptible and devoid of any Moral Values. Zip. NONE.

    There’s no MUDcrap “transition government” that can fix that endemic plague. You can’t fix STUPID. You can’t educate an entire clueless and corrupt populace in 10 years of soft “democracia criolla”. Especially now that the economy is destroyed. The Kleptozuelan Mess will continue, because it was brewing way before Chavez, because it is in the people themselves. It would take extremely tough measures, an extremely rigid Rule of Law, thousands would have to be prosecuted and jailed, Thousands fired from their Guisos everywhere, the entire military under strict surveillance, with stiff penalties.

    Therefore, since no Marcos Perez Jimenez is vailable these days, Kleptozuela is screwed, for decades to come. Chavismo or no Chavismo. Because the corrupt, uneducated, brain-washed Indians are everywhere.

  3. Case in point: The Mining Thievery industry described here. Of course it’s an environmental disaster, as everywhere else. Corrupt Bolibanana Indians have no clue about the meaning of such fancy worlds, much less care for any future global implications. They live for today’s bananas, stolen or fiadas, whatever manguito bajito they can get, on the run, before it rains.

    The widespread Kleptocracy in this particular sector also goes both ways, from the top to bottom, bottom to top. From Miraflores down to the corrupt little mineros, very worker, through the corrupt organized mafias – Pranes – through the Gualdia Nazional, thru the Fuelsas Almadas Bolibananas, at all levels, the low “salgentos” the big shot “tenientes” to the 2000 “generals”. All corrupt, uneducated kleptozuelan monkeys. Heck, no wonder a colombian, illiterate bus driver became ‘president” of Chinazuela’s tropical Animal Farm.

  4. That shot of Mr. Gonzalez’s at the top of the piece is great.

    I’ve seen some artisanal sites like this, though not in Venezuela. From a distance they sometimes just look like poorly dressed men slopping around in dirt and mud, but these areas and the communities around them are hell on earth: terrible disease, horrible environmental destruction with wide ranging effects, social breakdown, violent death. The regimes which allow this to go on are invariably connected to the criminal networks that run them.

  5. “That shot of Mr. Gonzalez’s at the top of the piece is great.”

    Agreed, at first glance it reminded me of some of those cave paintings in France done by early man.

    And speaking of raping the land, did you see the video of those guys working in one of these pits the day the earthquake hit down here? A huge section of dirt sloughed off the wall and crashed into a pool of water below. The resulting tsunami sent them scrambling for their lives.

    • I didn’t. I was thinking though that they must have all kinds of accidents like that. Engineers exist for a reason. I’ve seen artisanal operations where men were basically just burrowing all over the place in tunnels. They’d invariably wind up dead from being crushed or drowned if they did not die of aids or some other horrible condition.

      • I wish I had copied a link to that video. It was impressive the wall of water that came out of that pool. People, hoses, pumps, timbers, you name it, went flying in all directions.

        And just as you note above, all along the edges of that huge gash in the earth, there were tunnels, not deep mind you, but tunnels nonetheless where it looked like individuals were doing their own digging. You’d not have to be very far into one of those to have the ceiling cave in and die long before anyone could pull you out….if anyone even bothered to try a rescue.

        The guy I spoke to here recently says there’s a terrible mosquito problem down there and most everyone that works there gets one dread disease or another eventually.

          • LOL! The prans live like kings in the prisons here and say they’re safer in prison than on the street. The prison in Maturin, La Pica, actually has a disco club inside, complete with hot and cold running women.

            Of course, if you throw your lot in with the wrong pran, you might wake up in a hundred pieces in the morning. Beheadings are routine.

      • Pilk, if that’s from 2014, in a mine from Colombia, then the one John posted above, the same that I referenced, is obviosly not from Venezuela during the earthquake, though that’s how it was presented on Facebook.

        I’m astonished, someone posted something false on Facebook. LOL

    • Kathy, can’t thank you enough for that link. Looks like plenty of good articles there. I’ve looked before but have never found anything as comprehensive as the stories in the links you’ve provided.

      As canuck said above, “terrible disease, horrible environmental destruction with wide ranging effects, social breakdown, violent death”, are the norm. I’m sure it’s even worse today than a mere six months ago.

  6. Alas, a picture is worth a thousand words. Plus I wonder: where are all the environmentalists raising hell about this man-made disaster? Earth Justice? Greenpeace? Earth Witness?

    *crickets*

    • Aside from being the result of a leftist government, there’s no money to be made from this disaster. Socialist envrionmentalists are some of the biggest capitalists known to man.

  7. Yes, Kathy from Austin, where are the demonstators in Paris, London, Rome, Madrid, New York and all the other fashionable and wealthy locations where Pinochet and any other dictatorial right wing governments were so frequently called out. The mighty shield for the Maduros and the Castros, not to mention the Stalins and Maos has always been that they come from the extreme left.

  8. First of all, excellent article Gustavo! Secondly, this does not surprise me one bit that the investigative journalist of the Orinoco mining arc ecocide was kidnapped. This is a super important issue that does not get enough coverage because this is something the generales, enchufados and pranes want to keep a lid on.
    I would rate this as one of the most important stories in Venezuela today. Why? The enchufados are giving up on oil and just going to privatize that to the Chinese and the Russians. The oil business is just too much work, too many lawsuits, and they are just incompetent monkeys who only know how to steal. Cadivi/Sicad or lets just call it funny money fraud used to be the best business on the planet. Now that is drying up. So what is left that is highly profitable and avoids potential sanctions: illegal gold mining.

    Digging into the Mining Arc is an excellent piece of investigative journalism. However I would like to see further research upstream to catch the big fish who are running the show. The USA and the EU must get more active BANNING ALL GOLD coming from Venezeula. It is all illegal anyway, even if they get the stamp of approval from some rojo rojito and some fake papers for international shipment. Need more investigative reports going up the supply chain, because those are the scum who enslave an entire country.

    The story points to planes full of gold going to Aruba and Curacao. But from people I know, they say that there are planes leaving all the time. They wait till they are loaded with 100kilos of gold and then go to the USA. Southern Florida is awash in illegal gold from all over Latin America. The Miami Herald did a good report on this around the same time Digging into the mining arc was published. Furthermore, from the same source, I am told that many high Chavistas and enchufados are building warehouses in Estado Bolivar.

    If the gringos or the EU are not willing to do an oil embargo, a ban on Venezeulan gold would be a good start that would start to cut off a bit more oxygen from the scumbags upholding this evil regime and that is destroying the physical landscape of Venezuela for generations.

  9. It seems to me that the regime would just ship the gold to Turkey where it could be co-mingled with Turkish gold production thus avoiding the taint of being “blood gold” from Venezuela.

  10. I know very little about gold having owned very little of it in my life but once gold is refined to a certain purity I would think that it’s region of origin would become impossible to discern. Turkey could just put the Venezuelan gold that is co-mingled with Turkish gold on the market there and no one would be the wiser.

    • Venezuelan gold, from what I’ve been told, is about 90% purity. That’s the product one would buy on the street in the form of small nuggets. Coins such as Kruggerrands, Maple Leafs, and other government-issued pieces are 99.99% pure. But you’re right, once refined I would think it would be all but impossible to trace the origin.

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