The Bloody Grab for Gold in Venezuela’s Most Dangerous Town – by Andrew Rosati (Bloomberg News – April 9, 2018)

With free rein from Maduro, the military cuts a violent swath through the failing state. Dispatches from ground zero, El Callao.

In Venezuela’s gold capital, national guardsmen block the roads. Military convoys and motorcycles circle while soldiers keep wary watch behind sandbag checkpoints or patrol with faces covered by balaclavas and rifles in hand.

The military has been fighting for months to master El Callao, the dangerous nation’s most dangerous town, and a beachhead in efforts to develop a mineral-rich region the government calls the Arco Minero del Orinoco. President Nicolas Maduro granted the army the handsome prize, a move that helps ensure the unpopular autocrat’s power.

But the takeover has been punctuated by blood and bullets as soldiers raid neighborhoods and clandestine mines across 70,000 square miles from Colombia to Guyana, asserting themselves over gang lords and claiming revenue both legal and illicit.

On Feb. 10, the army seized weapons, burned vehicles and killed 18 civilians — including a woman and a youth — in one of the deadliest clashes since the project’s inception. Many victims were shot in the head and face, according to police photos and death certificates obtained by Bloomberg.

Soldiers “know that they can benefit from the uniform they’re wearing,” said Miguel Linares, 31, a trucker who ran gasoline to mines — and whose 34-year-old brother, Tigue, and close friend Carlos Alfredo Brito were among the dead.

“You have to pay,” he said. “They can put you in jail.”

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