Illegal miners have been cleared from Venezuela’s most well-known national park, the country’s defense ministry announced Monday.
“A space of 30,000 square kilometres — a space that is of world heritage status according to UNESCO — is now a space free of illegal mining,” said Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez.
The minister stated Venezuela’s military had stamped out the last seven illegal mining camps.
Over 1,000 people were “evicted” from the sites, state-run newspaper Correo del Orinoco reported.
According to Padrino, a total of 269 camps have been uncovered and dismantled in the region in recent months. The minister explained the campaign to clear out miners was a joint effort by the army and air force, along with naval personnel and special operations forces.
However, he warned the military will now turn its efforts to ongoing illegal mining elsewhere in Venezuela.
“The battle is not won at all,” he stated.
Roughly the size of Belgium, Canaima is widely regarded as one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. It’s also home to the highest waterfall on the planet, Angel Falls.
However, illegal miners have been drawn to the park by deposits of gold, diamonds and coltan deep in the isolated jungle.
Local authorities have long accused the miners of smuggling their spoils out of the country to neighboring Colombia and Brazil, while leaving behind scars on the landscape. The government has also recently cracked down on smuggling on the Colombia border.
Padrino lamented that despite the efforts of troops, many of the illegal mining operations had already devastated swathes of top soil and polluted waterways by the time they were discovered.
“What illegal mining does is destroy the natural environment, its life, the biodiversity, the fauna and the vegetation,” Padrino explained.
However, he said, President Nicolas Maduro had personally ordered the military to crack down on illegal miners nationwide.
“We have been called upon to recover these spaces, and with the armed forces we are acting stridently to make this happen,” Padrino said.