Army tackles wildcat gold mines in Venezuela jungle

* Miners destroy forests to extract gold

* Previous attempts have failed to stop wildcat miners

* Chavez says gold concessions should be nationalized

CARACAS, April 25 (BestGrowthStock) – Venezuela’s President Hugo
Chavez on Sunday ordered troops to crack down on wildcat miners
who use mercury, chain-saws and high-pressure hoses to strip
gold from beneath the South American nation’s jungles.

Venezuela’s southern forests contain some of Latin
America’s largest deposits of gold. Industrial mining is scarce
in the region, but hundreds of local miners have devastated
tracts of forest in the past few decades.

“This is a crime that we cannot keep on permitting. Look at
how the jungle ends up,” Chavez said, pointing at a photograph
of a treeless expanse of red earth.

He deployed soldiers in the southern state of Bolivar to
tackle the miners, who live in chaotic camps and villages known
for prostitution and drunken machete fights.

Chavez said he was prepared to use more troops if
necessary.

“This has to end, without killing anybody, without
torturing anybody, just applying the law,” he said on his
weekly TV show. “We cannot allow capitalist mafias, both
national and international, to keep destroying our homeland.”

Previous attempts by the Chavez government to stop the
mining led to violent protests by the miners and were
ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the practice.

Venezuela has been slow to develop its precious metals and
gemstone deposits, with only one private foreign company,
Russian-Canadian Rusoro (RML.V: ) currently extracting gold. A
state-run firm also owns mines.

The socialist Chavez has repeatedly said he plans to
strengthen the state’s participation to develop the sector in
partnership with allies such as Russia and Iran. Mining could
help diversify Venezuela’s export income away from its main
product, oil.

“We are going to exploit gold, we would have to nationalize
all of this, take back and finish with the concessions,” Chavez
said.

Earlier this month, the attorney general’s office said it
was investigating whether the deaths of a group of Yanomami
Indians were caused by mercury run-off from illegal mining
camps.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Bill Trott)

Army tackles wildcat gold mines in Venezuela jungle