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Global Peddlers Trade with Venezuelan Coltan

It is one of the so-called "rare earth elements" and a strategic material for high-tech industry. It abounds in the south of Venezuela, next to the border with Colombia. And although the Venezuelan government announced in 2009 measures for the military control of the deposits, since then, international smuggling routes have flourished, in which drug trafficking and informal traders participate. In a climate of mystery, now the Venezuelan coltan also threatens to become a source of geopolitical conflicts.

04/03/2012 14:07:49

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Hidden among so many ads posted on the web, the first links of a smuggling chain that starts in deposits in the Venezuelan states of Amazonas and Bolívar appear on the Internet, it sustains a submerged economy -with actors of drug trafficking in the distribution- in bordering countries like Colombia and Brazil, and after laundering it through traders in antipodes like South Korea, it ends in the electronic brains of videogame consoles, cell phones and guided missiles.

What merchandise has given rise to this convoluted semi-covered trade route? It is the coltan, the blue gold of the 21st century, required for various strategic industries due to the conductivity and heat resistance properties of its components, columbite and tantalite.

For Venezuelans, coltan went from being an unknown famous or a science fiction denomination, to a nearby reality thanks to an announcement by President Hugo Chávez. "Now a strategic mineral called coltan has appeared and we have taken the area militarily because they were smuggling it to Colombia," the president said on October 15, 2009. His order reached all the media but it seems that it did not have a determining effect, based on the following journalistic investigation jointly developed throughout a year by reporters of El Universal newspaper of Caracas, the site Armando.info, also of Venezuela, Noticias Uno of Bogotá, with the support of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) of Washington DC.