Behind the Gold Mining Company That Props Up Maduro’s Regime

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the State-run CVG Minerven, used as a front to hide the illegal extraction of gold by armed gangs, Colombian guerrilla and military, with tremendous damage to the environment and local communities.

Photo: El País, retrieved.

The U.S. Treasury Department just sanctioned, on March 19th, State-run mining company CVG Minerven and its chairman, Adrián Antonio Perdomo Mata, for “the illicit gold operations that continued to prop up the illegitimate regime of former President Nicolás Maduro.”

The Department’s statement says that Minerven’s activities have not only economically sustained the dictator, but they’ve also contributed to the country’s financial, humanitarian and environmental crisis. Minerven is actually a front for gold-extracting criminal gangs that impose the terror methods of Venezuelan prisons on innocent citizens and miners.

Why do military forces fail to confront these gangs? Because they work as a team. A long process of State collapse led to the alliance between the regime and these criminal organizations. Five government plans to control all national gold production failed in 12 years (2003 – 2014), with attempts to ban all mining activity in southern Bolívar, even for indigenous communities that have practiced artisanal mining for years with minimal environmental impacts.

When CVG Minerven went from producing 4,261.3 kg in 2009 to 430.74 kg in 2015, according to official numbers, Maduro decreed in 2016 the creation of the “Orinoco Mining Arc National Strategic Development Area,” comprising 111,843.70 km2. Mining Arc exploitation intensified criminal activity around illegal gold extraction and multiplied environmental issues.

Blood gold

The State’s weakness intensified the situation. The drop in oil prices, the technical bankruptcy of Guayana’s basic companies and Minerven, and the displacement of indigenous communities and illegal miners during the installation of transnational mining companies, led the regime to recruit criminal gangs to exploit the territory in exchange for impunity and economic benefits. An ecosystem of mutual benefit was born: the gangs extracted gold and the soldiers collected bribes, although not without clashes like the Tumeremo Massacre of 2016, one of the 47 massacres reported in the region since 2006.

Minerven is actually a front for gold-extracting criminal gangs that impose the terror methods of Venezuelan prisons on innocent citizens and miners.

Part of the gold extracted by criminals goes to the State through CVG Minerven and from there, to the Venezuelan Central Bank (BCV). That’s why lawmaker Américo de Grazia says that Minerven is a front to “launder blood gold,” just like in Western Africa.

De Grazia says he can prove that Minerven has handed over the gold exploitation to Mineturven, a Turkish-Venezuelan joint venture that operates without a mining concession, since those must be granted by the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition. The man behind Mineturven is Colombian Antonio Rufino Pérez, relative of Colombian political leader Piedad Córdoba, who’s close to the FARC.

“Pérez subdues Minerven employees with the DGCIM (military intelligence corps) and, together with mining gang leaders and the Colombian guerrilla ELN, he keeps most of the gold, which he exports in clandestine flights,” says De Grazia, several times threatened for his accusations. The ELN, he says, got involved in 2017, when it was recruited by the regime to replace the more unstable mining gangs. “But the economic damage is nothing compared to the environmental and social damage the regime has caused. It’s a structural perversion of corruption, crime, violence and terrorism that will take many generations to heal.”

Ramsés Ulises Siverio

Journalist, professor and editor based in Guayana. Finalist of the Gabriel García Márquez Award of the FNPI (2016), together with the Correo del Caroní team, for the coverage of the "Masacre de Tumeremo" case.