Venezuela Launches Military Operations on Border to Fight Drug Trafficking and Protect Coltan Reserve

On Thursday, Venezuela announced the expansion of military operations along its western border in order to fight drug trafficking and protect a recently discovered reserve of coltan from illegal mining.
Vice President and Defense Minister Ramon Carrizalez visiting the Coltan reserve on Thursday (YVKE)

Mérida, November 6th 2009 ( — On Thursday, Venezuela announced the expansion of military operations along its western border in order to fight drug trafficking and protect a recently discovered reserve of coltan from illegal mining. 

In what is titled Operation Blue Gold, 15,000 Air Force, Army, and Navy personnel will protect the coltan reserve, which straddles the states of Bolivar and Amazonas.

The government announced the discovery of the Coltan reserve last month. It coincided with the announcement of a public investment plan for the coming year aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing.

On Thursday, Vice President and Defense Minister Ramon Carrizalez visited the site of the reserve in an indigenous community called El Paloma, and said the troops would help combat drug trafficking and illegal armed groups in the region, in addition to protecting the reserve.

“We have more than 15,000 men deployed along our western border, combating all the crimes that occur along the border, as you know, crimes which come from another country and are not ours,” said Carrizalez to reporters from the state television channel VTV.

Carrizalez also displayed a sample of coltan in its unprocessed form, and explained that it is a highly coveted mineral because of its usefulness in satellites, missiles, computers, cellular phones, and other electronic devices.

“It is a mineral of strategic character, and therefore it stimulates the imperial appetite and the appetite of the business people who seek to obtain maximum profit without giving importance to environmental damage or the destabilization of countries,” said Carrizalez.

Carrizalez made specific reference to the civil war-plagued Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it is estimated the world’s largest coltan reserves lie, and where Belgium and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) collaborated of the U.S. government to overthrow the first democratically elected prime minister in 1964.  

Zulia, Tachira, and Apure States

Also on Thursday, Minister for Justice and Internal Affairs Tarek El-Aissami said 3,000 troops would be deployed to the Sierra de Perija region in the states of Tachira and Zulia in order to impede the passage of drug traffickers and eradicate the illicit cultivation of crops that are processed into illegal drugs.

The sparsely populated and forested Sierra de Perijá is one of the most conflict-ridden regions of Venezuela. In addition to drug traffickers, it is suspected that illegal armed groups from Colombia travel in the region. Local indigenous peoples have protested coal mining and violent persecution by large estate owners, and accused the government of not granting them the land titles due to them by law.

Last year, El-Aissami announced that the government plans to build five military bases in the Sierra de Perija region to fight drug trafficking and impede overflow fighting from the Colombian civil war.

“The Bolivarian government has been assuming responsibility for the fight against illicit drug trafficking and its consequences. For this reason, for the third consecutive year, Venezuela was certified by the United Nations as one of the countries where there is no cultivation of plants with which illegal drugs are produced,” said El Aissami on Thursday.

The minister also said the Armed Forces will deploy air and ground troops to the extensive, flat plains of Apure state to destroy illegal airplane landing strips that drug traffickers use to transport drugs from Colombia to the United States and Europe.

Venezuela sustains anti-drug cooperation agreements with 37 countries and extradited suspected drug traffickers to Colombia, Italy, the United States, Belgium, and France last year. Drug seizures have increased by two thirds since Venezuela stopped collaborating with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in 2005 on suspicion that the DEA was spying.