2020 Feature, Small Newsroom winner

Venezuela: The Smugglers’ Paradise

About the Project

This project is the result of a journalistic partnership between Correo del Caroní (Venezuela), De Correspondent (Netherlands), InfoAmazonia (Brazil), Miami Herald/Nuevo Herald (United States), and (Venezuela).

Smugglers Paradise investigates mining conflicts, gold trafficking and illicit money flows. We identified the stakeholders in the conflict-ridden mines in the south of Venezuela and connected the gold with international buyers.

Mining in Venezuela is surrounded by criminality and the majority of the gold, coltan and diamonds reach world markets through illicit networks. Venezuelan citizens are hit the hardest by the crisis in their country and will not reap the benefits of their natural riches as the profits are claimed by non-state armed groups and corrupt factions of the military and the government. Thanks to data-analysis and interviews with sources directly involved in the trade we showed that Colombia and the Dutch Caribbean islands are used as a trampoline for the minerals to reach their final destinations, which include the U.S., Europe and the Middle-East.

In our web series, we gave attention to the origin of the gold and the problems that surround its extraction. To understand the trade, we traveled over the same international routes as the gold itself. We met with traffickers, experts, miners, government officials, businesspeople and victims living in the mining areas and exposed an unknown network that manages a multi-billion dollar industry.

On our web platform, we published the following five chapters.

1. Gold mining in Venezuela and how the gold is taken to and across the country borders.

2. The northern Colombian border: how Venezuelan refugees are forced to walk gold across the border and face extreme risks and how local networks, with the involvement of criminal organizations and Colombian and Venezuelan law enforcement officials, involve themselves with gold trafficking.

3. The Amazon border: how indigenous communities find themselves partaking in predatory gold mining that destroys their natural environment and how gold is mined and trafficked across the jungle border controlled by Colombian guerrilla groups.

4. The Caribbean: How Dutch Caribbean Islands functioned as a laundromat for tainted Venezuelan gold. The origin of the gold is erased in these postcard islands and subsequently trafficked to international destinations.

5. International markets: how Venezuelan gold ends up in state-of-the-art refineries in the U.S. and Europe.