Chavez's Gold Bind

Venezuela's antiglobalist policies are scaring foreign mining companies. Are they hurting miners?

David Rochkind / Polaris

A miner illegally pans for gold at Las Cristinas mine near Ciudad Dorada, Venezuela.

Thousands of miners staged a violent two-week demonstration last September in Las Claritas, Venezuela, close to the Brazilian border. They blocked the border highway, burned trucks and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at national-guard troops. Their main target was Crystallex, a Toronto-based company that since 2002 is said to have held the legal rights to Las Cristinas--the world's fifth largest gold mine, with 12.5 million oz. of proven reserves.

Another confrontation between a ruthless First World corporation and exploited Third World labor? No, this is the Venezuela of President Hugo Chávez, where any semblance of business as usual is usually unintentional....

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