is a combination of columbite and tantalite. Columbite contains Niobium, and
tantalite contains Tantalum, numbers 41 and 73 of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table.
Although both elements belong to the so-called rare-earth minerals, their use
has become increasingly common and indispensable for the miniaturization of
electronic equipment ranging from cell phones to missiles.
their rarity, already in the late 70s, the Ministry of Energy and Mines of
Venezuela (the then Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons) financed research
regarding these and other minerals of the Guiana massif, the peculiar geological
formation containing inside elements as valuable as they are scarce. But more
than 30 years later, when those pioneering experiments were just references
filed in the libraries of Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG), a new wave of
miners appeared in search of raw material for new technologies. And they arrive
in Parguaza, in the state of Bolívar, at the foothills of the Guiana massif, the
first signs of coltan fever are evident.
the area of Los Gallitos, from one of the deposits made out in the middle of the
savannas, the miners confirm that foreigners are the ones looking for the booty
as if it were a home service. " Colombians are the ones who move this stone
here," Flandes says plainly, without a last name or formal name, suggesting that
it is a nickname.
come by motorcycle and travel again to the port of El Burro, then, they take a
boat that leaves them in less than 15 minutes in Puerto Carreño, the capital of
the department of Vichada," adds Flandes, who is the son of another miner who
accompanies him in the search for the so-called black stones. They have learned
to distinguish the difference between these mineral from other rocks that are
also found in the lands of the area; it is almost black and weighs more than a
and son have history extracting gold and diamonds in the region. Now, leaning
over a pile of reddish earth, they are seen with a pick and a shovel extracting
coltan around Parguaza, a corner of the state of Bolívar that begins to appear
on the radar of large companies in the technology sector. In that area, and at
least in other four points more known by the locals, when the military lower
their guard, they go in waves of up to 30 miners to find the blue
where the stone mountains rise above the until-recently virgin jungle, a new
activity sprang up. "People are in this because they are in need and there is no
work," explains Camilo, another of the many miners in the
remembers well that a group of foreign businessmen appeared more than a year ago
in the place with offers of growth. They spoke of new times, of benefits for
those who backed with their signatures a request to the government to legalize
the extraction of coltan. Everything was in words to the wind. They did not even
give printed business cards. "They told the people that there were going to be
houses and work sources, but they did not come back," says
of the landowners in the area add that Colombians, Australians and even Koreans
came knocking at their doors with a coltan project under their arms. They
offered millions in cash in exchange for their property deeds. In Venezuela,
anyway, extracting coltan is a crime.
mining activity has been banned in Amazonas since 1989. Only in Bolívar the
mining development company of the Amazon (Demina) obtained a concession in 2001
to explore and exploit coltan, among other minerals, but now faces the case in
courts, after the Government rescinded in 2010 the only license that the State
storing or transporting black stones became a crime thereafter. The judicial
records reveal that the National Guard seized almost two tons (1800 kilos) of
coltan between 2009 and 2011 to seven people, including women and men,
indigenous people, Colombian citizens and minors.
several of the accused have been released, most of the cases remain open. The
National Guard has confiscated the ore inside wrappings, bags of fique and white
stockings, along with picks, surucas (screen), shovels, machetes and some pairs
local organization, the Foundation for the Development of Science and Technology
in the state of Amazonas (Fundacite Amazonas) revealed in a 2009 report that the
National Guard had 46,800 kilograms of columbite-tantalite confiscated from a
Colombian citizen and that in the checkpoint of Pozón de Babilla were machines
seized by the military near the area where the illegal extraction occurred.
Fundacite, attached to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, found
evidence that the miners had the advice of specialists with knowledge on methods
of studying soils.