The law also bans the use of toxic cyanide and mercury for mining.
cw/bw (AP, Reuters, EFE)
Mafia war in Venezuelan gold mines
There is a bloody mafia war raging for control of the unlicensed gold mines in the Venezuelan state of Bolivar. Miners get killed regularly, their bodies mutilated or riddled with bullets. They have flocked to this region as President Nicolas Maduro's Socialist government has struggled with a three-year recession, spiraling inflation and food shortages.
Dangerous life in the mines of El Callao
A worker descends into an underground mine on the bank of a river in El Callao. It is believed, that 90 percent of the gold produced in the South American nation comes from illegal mines. In a country where a crushing economic crisis has fueled an epidemic of violent crime, such mines are "primarily in mafia hands," says Venezuelan Mining Chamber head Luis Rojas.
"I'll probably do this till I die"
A narrow mine shaft is filled with water and the smell of gases. The handmade wood supports to prevent a collapse look precarious at best. But Ender Moreno is unfazed. At 18 years old, he has already been doing this job for eight years. "I'm not afraid," he says as he climbs through the pitch black, his headlamp lighting the way through the hazardous maze 30 meters (100 feet) underground.
Assault rifle shootouts common
Ender knows three young men who were killed in his neighborhood. "They were miners, but they started running around with gangsters." A while ago, his boss at the mine was killed because he refused to let mobsters take over the business. Two months before that, 28 workers were massacred at a nearby mine, in what authorities called a turf war between rival gangs.
A miner shows a gold-mercury amalgam he found prospecting. At the nearby Nacupay gold mine, workers dig the earth from the bed of a contaminated river as others pour mercury into pans of extracted sediment. The open-pit mine is known as one of the most violent and polluting in the region.
Ender looks for gold in an open pit. After returning back to the surface, he contemplates his future during a short break. "My mom says this is no kind of life. But I can't stop because I need the money to help her," the teenage miner says. Workers make somewhere between 260,000 and one million bolivars a month ($95 to $360 or €88 to €334) - which, they point out, is far higher than minimum wage.
Workers sleep on-site in malaria-ridden camps
Venezuela was the first nation worldwide to eradicate malaria in its most populated areas, even preceding the United States in 1961. However, the situation now has changed for the worse, as the country has reported an increase in the incidence of malaria cases every year since 2008. The state of Bolivar accounts for the majority of these cases.