U.N. report cites atrocities for Venezuelans in mining area (July 27)

Miners use a high-pressure hose to erode the banks of a river in a search for gold at the edge of the Canaima National Park in Venezuela. (© Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post/Getty Images)
Miners use a high-pressure hose to erode the banks of a river in a search for gold at the edge of the Canaima National Park in Venezuela. (© Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

The Orinoco mining arc in Venezuela is rife with human rights abuses, including sexual exploitation and trafficking, and killings, according to a United Nations report.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet released a report on July 15 that collected victim and witness accounts. They detail abuses committed against miners and indigenous people in the arc. The report also addresses extrajudicial killings that continue to occur throughout the country under the illegitimate regime of Nicolás Maduro and his cronies.

“Authorities should take immediate steps to end labour and sexual exploitation, child labour and human trafficking, and should dismantle criminal groups controlling mining activities,” Bachelet said in a statement. “They must also investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for human rights violations, abuses and crimes.”

The Orinoco mining arc is a stretch of 112,000 square kilometers in the central part of the country that contains valuable metals, such as gold and cobalt. Mining operations are overseen by armed criminal groups who rule the miners with violent coercion.

The report outlines how miners are subjected to 12-hour days in pits deep in the ground. They are forced to pay up to half of their wages to the armed groups and the owners of the mining operations.

Some of the miners are as young as 9 years old.

Miners face brutal attacks for any perceived noncompliance, from limb amputations to death. Bodies of victims are often dumped in abandoned mines nearby without a proper burial.

“Despite the considerable presence of security and military forces in the region, and the efforts undertaken to address criminal activity,” Bachelet said, “the authorities have failed to investigate and prosecute human rights violations and abuses and crimes linked to mining.”

The report also says miners and indigenous tribes living near mining sites are exposed to dangerous levels of mercury, which is used to clean the gold. Women, in particular, are affected most by mercury poisoning, it says.

Hand holding spoon with blow torch focused on it (© Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker melts a gold-mercury amalgam to extract the gold at a mine in El Callao in Bolívar state. (© Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Witnesses reported a dramatic spike in prostitution since the mining operations increased in 2016. Adolescent girls and women are the victims of the trade, often falling prey to trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“The U.N. has found yet more harrowing evidence of gross human rights violations by the illegitimate Maduro regime,” said U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, “citing more than 1,300 extrajudicial executions for political reasons in 2020 alone.”

“International pressure on Maduro must continue until the Venezuelan people can reclaim their democracy,” Pompeo said.