Photo: retrieved 

Every day, hundreds of mothers and housewives wake up before the sun even rises to travel many miles into southern Bolívar State to get a taste of the famous gold, as the frenzy of making profit from the gold business has turned the lives of thousands of Bolívar citizens around.

While millions of Venezuelans suffer the consequences of the serious economic crisis beating the country, many others have found their economic climax thanks to the mining boom taking place in Bolívar State, the state with the fourth largest gold mine in the world.

It takes about two hours to go from Ciudad Guayana to El Callao or Tumeremo, two mining sites that are regularly visited by a large flow of people due to the mining boom.

Cakes, homemade ice-cream and sweets, arepas, empanadas, pastelitos, dumplings and papelón con limón are some of the products that these women carry with them to satisfy the growing demand in the southern area.

Although there is no official data, last year, former El Callao mayor Coromoto Lugo said that at least 30,000 miners are working in the municipality. The presence of these men has created a new social order that demands goods and services.

For eight months, Flor García has been making the trip from her house in Ciudad Guayana to El Callao. “My cousin convinced me. Originally we were afraid, but once you start seeing the movement, you start realizing that if you follow the rules and don’t mess with anyone, you won’t have any trouble.”

Nelson Solano, representative for the Bolivarian Transport Federation of El Callao, estimates that at least 100 buses move in and out of El Callao every day, with people who engage in some sort of commercial activity directly or indirectly related to mining.

Besides the buses, there are always 350 pickup trucks, among other vehicles, transporting people in poor safety conditions to mining towns.

But in the last two years, things changed dramatically for her, because gradually, she was left without a job.

Flor had previously worked cleaning houses for almost 20 years, which allowed her to raise her children, send them to school and build a house little by little. But in the last two years, things changed dramatically for her, because gradually, she was left without a job.

Flor began making ice cream at home, “I stood in line for regulated products and then I sold the ice cream near my house, that’s the first thing I could think of to make some money.”

The voracious economy and rampant shortages that inflate the prices of the few products that can be found, has led many to think of other ways to make ends meet and, in the case of Bolívar, many seek to work in activities related to mining.

Flor and her cousin make the trip during weekdays to sell food, cigarettes and coffee. They prepare everything during the night and in the morning, they pack it in coolers and take it to the mines. “Not all the women who work in the mines are prostitutes, that’s a lie. You have no idea of how many housewives go there to sell something and make some money.”

José Guevara, head of the Association of Retailers of San Félix, explains that retailers find it increasingly hard to find people who want to work for a wage, “right now, everyone sees the mines as the answer. People go there to sell anything you can imagine: food, clothes, medicine, TV sets, stoves, cell phones; and since miners make easy money, they also spend it easily.”

The jackpot is finding a miner who pays in gold.

The jackpot is finding a miner who pays in gold. There are fees expressed in bolívares fuertes or soberanos in Bolívar State; prices are set in gold and many transactions are made in the valuable mineral.

“In town, everyone talks of grams and points of gold, and the closer you get to the mines and camps, the more gold people accept,” says Flor, adding that she’s been paid in gold only a few times, but she’s preferred to keep working in downtown El Callao because she’s still afraid of the mine and its work. Still, cash flows freely through the streets and it’s common to see people with large amounts of money in cash on them. “Since we sell everything in cash, I find better prices for most of the ingredients I use for what I sell, that’s why the trip is worth it.”

This new way of making a living implies also an important health risk for Flor and other people travelling to the mines.

After months of silence, in April this year, the government admitted that 175,000 malaria cases have been recorded in the area to this date in Bolívar State alone. Luis López, who was Health Minister at the time, said that 400,000 had been affected by the end of 2017.

Sadly, there’s no indication that the figures might decrease, since there are no policies for preventing the disease and providing timely attention to the people affected. According to estimates of Red Defendamos la Epidemiología, by the end of 2018, there will be 586,000 cases in Bolívar alone.

Just like malaria, dengue and more recently measles have also become common ailments in the mining areas.

Just like malaria, dengue and more recently measles have also become common ailments in the mining areas.Flor is one of the lucky ones, because she’s suffered malaria only once, “I know people who have been ill eight times.”

It’s common to hear townsfolk say that with the gold rush, violence and anarchy have taken over the streets, but at the same time they refuse to think of other trades far from the mines and the profit they bring.

The government has collected a long list of initiatives and programs that have failed to fight off the illegality and the crime associated with mining; from the Plan Piar announced in 2003, as an alternative to certify illegal miners, which later mutated to Misión Piar, offering credits and incentives for small miners to seek out other trades.

Later, in 2007, there came the mining reconversion, which started with the controversial and criticized eviction of miners from the Caroní shores, accompanied with another wave of financing for some 6,000 miners that were working in the area at the time.

After each of these policies, the inhabitants of Bolívar State’s mining areas in general have seen that, far from declining, the mining activity has gained more and more strength, as an “organized” business where, like Flor and others say, if you follow the rules and don’t mess with anyone, you won’t get in any trouble.

Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.


  1. Interesting story but you left out something very important. What are “the rules” that referred to in your story. Those riles would tell us,a lit about how things really work in this mining region. The quote I referred to is as follows:

    Originally we were afraid, but once you start seeing the movement, you start realizing that if you follow the rules and don’t mess with anyone, you won’t have any trouble.”

  2. Great fluff article on people swarming to mining areas to make some more soberanos, or if they are lucky: gold. DUHHHH! Yeah, kind of interesting, and the biggest thing I got from the article was: not all the women going there are whores.

    But if you want some real journalism, lets look into who are the big fish buying all the illegal gold. Lets examine how all the illegal gold is leaving Estado Bolivar for abroad. We need to know where is it going to and who is buying the illegal gold abroad (because they are getting filthy rich and this only helps perpetuate a corrupt and evil regime as well as the destruction of the Orinoco).

    Been hearing lots of militares/enchufados/pranes are also swarming to the gold rush as well. It is better to expose the dirty hands of the big fish rather than a fluff article on the little fish trying to make a few soberanos.

    • We all know who is profiting from this.DUHHHH! The corrupt enchufados and pranes(same thing) and most of it goes to places like Turkey then to world market.

  3. Rule 1: Don’t mess with anybody; Rule 2: DON’T MESS WITH ANYBODY!; Rule 3: RUN, if anybody tries to mess with you; Rule 4: Bajate De La Mula if the person messing with you wears a uniform.

  4. “if you follow the rules and don’t mess with anyone, you won’t get in any trouble.”

    The rule of the jungle: become complicit thugs yourselves. Turn a blind eye on crime, a start participating. Give your vacunas, left and right, become part of the problem. Fuel the Mega-Corruption Kleptozuelan machine: If you’re a woman, sell food to the Pranes, Gualdia Nazional Bolibanana, to the crooked military, or sell your own body, become prostitutes as many have. Roba tu por alla, que yo robo por aca. Y aqui no ha pasado, nada.

    That was the plan from day 1: Turn the entire country into a a Den of Thieves, everywhere, every industry, not just mining, at all levels of the putrid, Kleptozuelan ‘society’. Everyone steals, no one goes to jail, unless you rat out on the next thief. Cuanto hay pa’ eso? Como quedo yo ahi? Bajate de la mula” “Pa los frescos” “Una segunda pa’ los panas”. “El que no corre vuela”

    What a lovely country. By ignorant thieves, for ignorant thieves. Indians dealing with Indians, with guns and machetes and gold or food or clothes, whatever. Survival of the fittest thieves. El Pueblo in full control.

    • Yup, you should have wrote this article Poeta. What is going on should not be celebrated, nor even accepted as the new normal. The only conclusion (if you care about the liberation of Venezuela) is a full rejection of what is going on… So whereas she stops at 2007 when the government was still a corrupt narco-petrolium kleptocracy, she needs to fast forward to 2017 and all the enchufados,pranes and militares moving in to get their slice of the pie. Government agencies do nothing more than put their stamp of approval on illegal gold.

  5. What struck me as interesting is the photo posted at the top of the article. If it’s a recent one, then it must surely be one taken from the mining area. I find it interesting because most city scenes these days are pretty drab and somber, not at all vibrant like that one.

  6. “Grams and points of gold”. Of course I know what a gram is but what is a point of gold? And how are these transactions conducted? Do all these vendors carry around digital scales to weigh the tiny bits of gold? Just wondering.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised Tom. Seems like it would be as essential to someone doing transactions in gold as a pick axe would be to a miner. The one guy here locally who I know that works in the mines, carries one. And they’re accurate too. His was about the size of a pocket calculator.

      We were discussing one day the quality of the gold and the size of the final product. I asked about how he confirmed the weight of his product and out came the digital scale. Before we had a machine to count bills, in a rush, we often weighed packs of 100 BsF notes. On our digital scale, a complete pack weighed 110 grams for 100 bills though our scale rounded to the nearest gram, not fractions. I laid a single bill on this guy’s scale and it read 1.1 grams.

      Don’t know what a point of gold is, but I’ll ask. Maybe a pinch? LOL

  7. Girls, and Gals, you are way off base on this article.
    Admittedly, it was written to give those of us not in Bolivar state an idea of how many venezuelans survive.

    But it was not a puff piece. It did not hi-light a sad story of a Chavista now suffering, and complaining of wages, of medical ills, or unfair prices or bus fares.

    Instead it shows that capitalism exists, and will always exist if a person is given even the slightest opportunity. That ingenuity, hard work, and a semblance of “rules”, produce entreprenuers in even the most extreme of environments.

    That those “Successful” miner (who were probably dirt poor at one time -and are still relatively poor compare to others) act like most normal people, in that they spend their wealth. Which in most places in VZ today is looked upon with envy, and an unfair advantage. And which the “state” needs to control and suppress due to the socialist mantra of equal for all (except the military and political elite).

    Notice that the Vendor, does not complain of selling to that Successful Miner. Notice that the picture (current, I hope), shows people in the streets. A bustling town, a boom town. Where an industry thriving.

    Of course capitalism can be a nasty system without rules, which is where a normal Government is needed to protect the environment, the areas health, Security, transportation, etc.

    But the kicker is that Maduro and his socialist BS, which preaches equality, harmony, and all the areas noted above where government is needed, FAILS and in fact is the leader in this ugly capitalism system. Supporting the mines, and the rape of the environment. Ignoring the Malaria plague, and of course taking a cut as a Mafia type organization would.

  8. it ain’t very complicated to understand why 85.89% of the entire Kleptozuelan Populace are crooks by now. Complicit, Culpable, enablers of the Narco-Kleptocracy.

    Say you fry empanadas de cazon, in Barlovento or Margarita, or your business was selling arepas and perro calientes en Chacaito. Sooner than later, twisted Kleptozuelan deals show up. The zapatero exchanges a pair of shoes for and empanada pero despues te traigo una frias, y bujco a la chama en la ejcuela. Next thing you know, the zapatero drilled the heck outta the “student”, doped her up with some cheap bazuco, and robbed the areperas’ cash. Happens every day, at every corner, in every city.

    No rule, no laws, no education, no moral values: Result: Haitizuela. Corruption everywhere, corrupt, ignorant tropical Indians on the lose. Chavistas or not, same difference.

  9. Oh, one last thing. I’d bet the farm, that SUNDDE, would not dare to raid any store in Bolivar. Actually, would not dare consider advancing ONE STEP inside the state.

    Just imagine, they try, and reduce retail prices to cost. Of course everyone would buy every last sluicing pan, pick and stick of dynamite on the shelves, but the next day those SUNDDE officials would be hung up by their toes in the central market when those miners want to spend their gold, and there is nothing to buy.

  10. Dale is right. Capitalism lives! As for Ven. gold mining, a schematic maybe not 100% recall: individual Brasilian garimpeiros/Ven. miners have always taken out the majority in small mines for their own accounts, subject to Ven. military/local gang extortion/murder; Las Cristinas large mine was originally founded/owned by concession by (German?) immigrant(s), which concession was revoked some decades later by Ven. Govt., with little/no compensation paid; concession passed titularly to Adeco personal acquaintances (“owner” lived most of time in yacht off Spain, friend lawyer in La Lagunita in mansion with staff of 5), as gold was skimmed/sold to fund the caja chica of the AD party; a decade or more later the concession was revoked once again with no compensation paid and was sold to Canadian Cristallex, which made some new investments, but not nearly so large as promised; recently the concession was revoked once again, with Cristallex not compensated/suing/favorable arbitration judgment, to give to “Corp.” headed by 3 top GNB/military officers to continue the skim/scam, this time to help keep the military in line. The majority of gold mined in Venezuela continues to be by individuals, ergo the mini-boom town pictured in the heading of this article.

  11. “Capitalism lives! ”

    You bet. The Klepto-Cubazuelan, tropical version of Capitalism, that is. Kleptozuelanism. No rules, no punishment, among uneducated, corrupt pueblo-people Indians. Borderline anarchy, except the 5000 corrupt military ‘generals’ won’t do shit, except steal all they can.

    It ain’t exactly Wall Street Capitalism, Manhattan style, If you get the drift. It’s Chavistoide Guaire River ‘capitalism’, with bows and arrows, and machetes and guns.

  12. I wish there had been more information on how this town manages to operate. For instance, how come the women can get regular transportation over a significant distance when elsewhere transportation is breaking down through lack of parts etc.? Is the gold readily turned into cash (bolivars)? I thought it was hard to get hold of large supplies of bank notes, so some financial institution is being exceptionally helpful. And is there a special reason why the electricity supply is apparently reliable? As M Rubio remarks, the photograph shows a town with a lot of prosperous bustle, and it makes me wonder who is supplying the infrastructure? Government? Army? Gangs? After all, it has been established that in the California gold rush the biggest beneficiaries were the traders who supplied the miners, not the miners themselves.

    • Bernard, I can’t answer your questions specifically, but can relate that as recently as 6 months ago or so, it seemed as though the mining area to the south of us was something of a vacuum for all sorts of goods, and especially, hard-to-find cash.

      We heard here many times, and from multiple sources, that there were buyers of the larger denomination bills who were paying double or more than face value for the currency. Without exception, when asked why, they’d respond that the bills were headed to the mines.

      I too thought of the California gold rush tales where those who got really rich were the traders who supplied the miners versus the average miner of the day.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here