Venezuelans fighting the country’s economic crisis are illegally mining gold to survive

Jorge Sanchez, 24, works with the mixture in a stone crusher machine in a gold mine in El Callao, Bolivar state, southeastern Venezuela on February 25, 2017. JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images

  • Venezuelans mining for gold fragments in national park that inspired Disney’s “Up’.
  • Constantly rising currency inflation means small amounts of gold are being used to pay for everyday staples.
  • A UN heritage site famous for green tourism is now home to multiple mines.

Venezuela’s economic crisis has forced citizens living in a renowned national park into a drastic step – illegally mining for gold.

The country’s indigenous Pemon people, native to the region containing Venezuela’s famous Angel Falls, have now left ecologically driven lives as tour guides in Canaima National Park to mine for fragments of gold.

Gold has now replaced the bolivar as the national currency within the UNESCO-listed area, whose 500 million year old pillars of erosion inspired Disney’s “Up”, with Venezuelans digging football field sized mines to search for the precious metal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Mining is illegal in Canaima National Park, an area the size of Belgium, but Venezuela’s dire economic conditions are pushing its population to extremes which could cause devastation to the heritage site in the view of environmentalists.

Gold has become a key part of President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to buoy the country’s economy as oil production falters. Although American involvement in gold mining is banned under US sanctions, Venezuela has been shipping its gold to Turkey for refining in order to escape escalating prohibitions.

The cost to the local community has also been high. Traditionally many Venezuelans living in the park took English lessons in order to become tourist guides but many have now quit to take up mining, often under cover of darkness to avoid the military patrols in the area.

Amid deepening poverty and an exodus of millions of Venezuelans the country’s population have taken drastic measures to survive, potentially at the expense of its local ecosystem.

News of the illegal mining comes as inflation in the country looks set to hit 1.3 million per cent this year, according to the IMF, making staples such as rice and beans unaffordable for much of the population.