Amazon diamonds smuggled from Venezuela to Guyana flout Kimberley rules
Illegal diamond mining is taking place deep in Venezuela’s Amazon. The gems are smuggled into neighbouring Guyana and given fake certificates before they are shipped to Europe and the United States.
A small boat travels downriver deep in the Venezuelan Amazon, where the jungle straddles the country’s border with Brazil.
In it are three gold and diamond buyers, armed with weighing scales, magnifying glasses and rucksacks stuffed with cash. They stop off every few minutes at many of the illegal mines that line the river and scar the jungle.
At one mine, half a dozen men squat in waist-high water in a 40m wide pit. They pick through the mud in soaked and dirty rags.
Despite appearances, this is a prosperous business. Standing at the edge of the pit, Jesús López, 45, says that he earns $2,000 in an average week.
"I make this sacrifice for my children,” he says.
In Santa Elena, the nearest town to these mines, one buyer, with a gun in his holster and a desk littered with gems, explains the illegal business.
The diamonds he purchases will probably end up in trading centres such as Tel Aviv, Antwerp, London and New York after being smuggled into neighbouring Guyana for the obtention of falsified papers.
The route flouts the Kimberley Process, an international pact agreed in 2003 to curtail the diamond smuggling that was fuelling civil wars in Africa - the trade in so-called "blood diamonds."