Armed Gangs Confound Venezuela’s Bid to Exploit Gold Mines

by Anatoly Kurmanaev, The Wall Street Journal

LA PARAGUA, Venezuela — Five years after Venezuela nationalized much of its mining industry, President Nicolas Maduro is inviting multinational firms back in to try to revive the country’s dying economy. But standing between the companies and the minerals are up to 100,000 illegal miners and armed gangs, some of which evidently enjoy cozy relations with local military commanders.

In February, Mr. Maduro unveiled a plan to auction 27 million acres of new concessions in an area he designated as the Orinoco Mining Arc. The government estimates the area holds 7,000 tons of gold, which if certified would make Venezuela’s gold deposits second only to Australia’s.

Mr. Maduro signed deals that month with China’s fourth-largest coal miner Yankuang Group, construction giant China CAMC Engineering Co. and Spokane, Washington-based independent miner Gold Reserve Ltd. He said more contracts worth billions of dollars are coming.

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