Chinese companies have been hiding behind mining cooperatives to extract gold in the northern regions of the La Paz Department in Bolivia.
These cooperatives receive income in exchange for maintaining secrecy.
Chinese companies have been getting rich off Bolivian gold without paying taxes while polluting the environment and harming locals’ health, Peruvian investigative journalism platform “Ojo Público” reports.
“The gold problem is not controlled, although there are regulations in place and the Bolivian State Gold Company exists,” Ely López, a researcher of the Latin American organization Terra Justa which studies extractive projects and their impact in the region, told Diálogo on Jan. 30.
“This issue is beyond the control of the state.”
According to the Latin American storytelling platform VIST, these “shady deals” between Chinese investors and national cooperatives have become common.
According to the report, Chinese investors take up to 75% of the value of gold without paying taxes to the state.
“The Chinese take everything and leave nothing for the people,” a citizen from La Paz, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, told Ojo Público.
“China helps buy dredges and machines to dredge the rivers,” the operations manager of a mine in Guanay, who also did not want to be named for fear of reprisals, told Mongabay.
“The Chinese have a lot of machinery [in Bolivia].”
As reported by the Bolivian newspaper El Deber, the machines are:
- dump trucks from China’s state-owned China National Heavy Duty Truck Group Co. (CNHTC),
- machinery from Chinese state-owned Guangxi LiuGong Machinery Co.,
- equipment from the Sinotruk Group, part of CNHTC,
- and motorized vehicles from Detank, a manufacturer affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.
According to Mongabay, gold is Bolivia’s second most important export.
However, illegal gold mining has led to widespread deforestation and mercury pollution.
The Bolivian Amazon is increasingly threatened by environmental degradation.
The area of greatest concern most significant is National Park, a protected area of nearly 19,000 square kilometers with one of the highest biodiversity rates in the Americas.
The region has become the center of gold mining in Bolivia, and mining activities occur within the park annually.
“Because of the indiscriminate presence of dredges, the rivers are contaminated by the use of mercury,” López complained.
“If the mercury is in the rivers, it is also in the people, the animals, and all the surrounding vegetation.”
There is also “land grabbing by Chinese capital in the region. People have had to flee their communities,” López added.
The illegal mining of Bolivian gold, controlled by mining cooperatives in collaboration with Chinese companies, may be linked to other unlawful activities in La Paz, such as drug and human trafficking, reports the Bolivian daily Opinión.
They are also involved in the illegal trade of mercury to other countries, added Bolivian newspaper Página Siete.
The increased demand for Bolivian gold acts as a “pull factor” for criminals in the region, including organized crime groups involved in financial crimes, Interpol said in an April 2022 report.
“We have a Bolivia besieged by the gold mafia, smuggling, and drug trafficking that move large amounts of money,” Rodrigo Paz, a senator from the Bolivian political alliance Comunidad Ciudadana (Civic Community), told the press in December.