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Desperate Venezuelans Illegally Mining Gold in World-Renowned National Park

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Venezuelans have turned to illegally mining gold just to survive.

The Pemon people are native to the region containing Canaima National Park. If you saw the movie Up, you’re familiar with this area. The 500 million-year-old pillars of erosion in the park inspired scenery in the movie. The park also contains world-famous Angel Falls. But with hyperinflation gripping the country and the bolivar virtually worthless, people in the area have turned to digging up football-size mines in search of fragments of gold. 

This summer, a cup of coffee set you back 2 million bolivars in Caracas and it’s gotten progressively worse. Of course, even if you had that much currency, you would probably have a hard time finding a cup of coffee. Venezuelans have suffered extreme shortages for years. Grocery store shelves are empty. People have had to turn to the black market just to survive.

The IMF projects the inflation rate will hit 1.3 million percent this year. According to Venezuelan government numbers, the inflation rate came in at 830,000% in October. At some point, the inflation rate gets so absurd, it becomes pointless to even track it. Venezuela has passed that point. The bottom line is even the most basic staples such as rice and beans have become unaffordable for large swaths of the population. A roll of toilet paper costs 2.6 million bolívars.

With the bolivar worth significantly less than as a napkin, gold has become an everyday currency. According to an article published by Business Insider, “Constantly rising currency inflation means small amounts of gold are being used to pay for everyday staples.”

Canaima National Park covers an area the size of Belgium. Mining in the park is illegal. But desperate times call for desperate measures. As Business Insider put it:

Traditionally many Venezuelans living in the park took English lessons in order to become tourist guides but many have now quit to take up mining, often under cover of darkness to avoid the military patrols in the area. Amid deepening poverty and an exodus of millions of Venezuelans the country’s population have taken drastic measures to survive, potentially at the expense of its local ecosystem.”

Faced with starvation, preserving the ecosystem becomes a luxury people simply can’t afford.

“We the Pemon were always ecologists, the protectors of this land. But the situation has turned us into the destroyers of our own habitat,” Abraham Sandoval told the Wall Street Journal.

We tend to look at stories like this and think, “That could never happen here.” But I’m pretty sure a lot of Venezuelans would have said the same thing just a couple of decades ago. As recently as 2001, the country was the most prosperous in South America. Remember when American reporters were gushing over the “socialist miracle” in Venezuela?

Lesson: any economy can be wrecked.

You’re probably not in an area where you can mine gold during a financial crisis. But you can prepare now. SchiffGold has a number of products developed specifically for barter. Barter metals are gold and silver products that generally come in weights of less than one ounce. Their smaller size makes them ideal for in-person transactions.

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