"Whoever knows he is deep, strives for clarity; whoever would like to appear deep to the crowd, strives for obscurity." - Friedrich Nietzsche
HOUSTON () -- A well known saying goes, "The market loathes uncertainty." Crystallex International [AMEX:KRY; TSX:KRY], the lately hapless holder of an operating contract to mine one of the largest gold deposits in South America, now knows what it is like to be on the receiving end of that saying. Sometimes it really doesn't matter if the uncertainty is unnecessary.
After an initial Dow Jones report on September 20, which caught part of a Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez television speech that touched on the subject of changes being made to mining sector policy, a firestorm erupted on the newswires and in the American and Toronto exchanges of the stock markets.
While news writers in general are very interested in anything sensational and being first, very few of the people in the news craft today are apparently interested in getting the story right, first. As the piling-on of journalists over the last month, and particularly over the past two weeks on mining companies in Venezuela in general and Crystallex International in particular demonstrate, more often than not journalists shoot first, ask questions later these days.
Dow Jones Shoots First, and Shoots to Kill
With little more than a couple hours to go in the trading day on the 20th, Dow Jones fired off a headline-only into cyberspace ominously proclaiming: "DJ Venezuela Chavez: Crystallex-Run Mine Belongs To Venezuela." (The news flash mentioned that details would follow.)
To already nervous shareholders and investors that doomsday headline was too much. All across the globe those with quick trigger fingers hit the red button sending Toronto based Crystallex shares tumbling through multiple sell stops for the second time in two months. Just before the DJ headline news flash Crystallex was trading at an already weakened US $2.66. In less than an hour it had careened down to $1.40. On just a headline. It took that long to get the stock halted.
One can only guess why Dow Jones felt it necessary to fire that kind of troubling headline-only news flash into the already nervous stock market so close to the daily closing time. DJ did follow up with a complete article, but only after the carnage had played out and the trading for Crystallex shares was safely closed. As it turned out, the full DJ story on the 20th was indeed troubling as written by DJ correspondent Raul Gallegos. In a later update, Gallegos began the out-of-this-world story:
"CARACAS - (Dow Jones) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday his government is reclaiming national mining assets such as Las Cristinas, a gold mine operated by Canada's Crystallex International Corp. (KRY)."
A sensational story if there ever was one. The only problem is that while Mr. Chavez did mention Las Cristinas, he never once mentioned the name Crystallex. As we will see, that distinction is extremely important.
Once Dow Jones dripped blood in the water other news services jumped on the story. At 3:51 pm EDT, DJ competitor Reuters included a clipped Chavez quote either taken off Venezuelan television or from other sources. The Reuters version, with no by line, quoted Chavez as saying:
"As it happens in Las Cristinas ... It's mine, it's over. That belongs to Venezuela, and there we are going to create a national mining company there, ourselves," Chavez said in a speech."
Once again, Crystallex was not mentioned by the president. The quote was murky at best, but no matter, the reporters had something that was mouth-watering to run with. And run they certainly did. It was a short-seller's dream come true. (Short sellers profit if a stock goes down in price).
Soon literally dozens of reports were hitting the wires. Western reporters just love to report on anything that hints at some business enterprise being "nationalized" or "expropriated" by what they have come to label in politically correct speech as the "personalized politics" (code for dictator) of Venezuela. As one reporter put it, that is where the decisions of one man affect an entire nation.
By late evening on the 20th a flood of stories from a basket full of services were parroting and embellishing Raul Gallegos' TV-gotten quotes. We will look at some of those quotes a bit later.
But now hold on a minute. What about context? What about background? What about the reporter's duty to get the whole story and to put that story in a context that is understandable? And what about the consequences of running with a story before those ideal conditions are satisfied?
That is also part of what we will look into, but first things first, a little background.
Just about every weekend, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez delivers a marathon nationally televised speech called "Alo Presidente." A kind of fireside chat on steroids. In these 2 to 4-hour sermons the colorful head of state covers wide ranging topics. Everything from the best time to plant a garden to complicated international agreements.
Since many of the cabinet level ministers avoid the international press, preferring to speak with local (read friendly) newspapers and the government-run television company, (there are opposition-run TV stations in Venezuela too) it is increasingly difficult for the largely opposition and international press to button hole the politicians for interviews. Consequently, Mr. Chavez' hours-long chats are a source for many reports. The trouble with that kind one-way communication is obvious: No opportunity for the reporting correspondent to ask questions or get clarification.
Compounding the confusion is the observation, by many, of Chavez' propensity to speak in intentionally vague terms. "He likes to keep people guessing," says an international reporter based in Brazil. His extended weekend speeches, "offer red meat to both supporters and detractors because of that." Another cynical commenter referring to "Chavez-speak" asked rhetorically if "he does that to boost (TV) ratings."
From email exchanges with a number of correspondents who jumped on the erroneous 'Las Cristinas-is-being-nationalized' bandwagon, it is clear that if one has an agenda in their reporting of Venezuela national politics, all they need is a television set in Caracas. Sooner or later, a delicious opportunity will present itself in the form of a Hugo Chavez ad lib.
The president's TV show is more like variety show on some days, but on most he uses part of the air time for a kind of "world according to Hugo" launch pad. While "Alo Presidente" is a rich source of nourishment for hungry reporters it is not the only format where the president goes on national television. Like most other national leaders wherever he goes there are likely to be cameras present. In this particular case, quotes attributed to the president were gleaned from several TV appearances. Before we look into those instances of "Chavez-speak" it might be helpful to gain some understanding of what the subject is.
What Is at Issue?
In 2002 Crystallex was awarded a mine operating agreement (MOA) by the Chavez-run government holding company Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana (CVG) covering the mining areas known as Las Cristinas 4,5, 6 and 7, just off the Pan-American Highway to Brazil near the Kilometer 88, Sifontes and Las Claritas communities in Bolivar state. That MOA is for a period of 20 years and foresees two possible 10-year extensions.
Las Cristinas is a very large tonnage relatively low grade but easily mined near-surface gold deposit on the edge of an ecologically sensitive area called Imataca in southeastern Venezuela. While much of the Imataca is relatively undisturbed rain forest, a good deal of the area in and immediately surrounding the portion of Las Cristinas planned to be mined is a waste land of small scale mining scars and is not ecologically pristine. Historic and contemporary (largely unregulated) small scale mining in the area has been a problem from mining pollution and unsafe sanitary and working conditions. Recently the government of Venezuela has cracked down on that largely illegal mining and forcibly removed the small miners. More about that in a moment.
The draw for Crystallex is a resource base of something over 17 million ounces of gold (about 12.5 million ounces proven and probable) contained in that Venezuelan soil in a portion of Las Cristinas according to a recently updated SNC Lavalin feasibility study which used a conservative gold price of $350. The details of the study can be found on the Crystallex website and they don't need to be repeated here. Suffice it to say it is an understatement to call it a really big project.
From a purely economic standpoint, development of Las Cristinas and other large scale mining projects requires a substantial commitment of capital, talent and resources and that is why the government of Venezuela invited companies in to develop the large-scale projects. Companies actively mining or advancing projects include Hecla [NYSE:HL], Bolivar Gold [TSX:BGC], Gold Reserve [AMEX:GRZ; TSX:GRZ], Crystallex International and Shandong Gold Mining, a Chinese firm. The tradeoff for Venezuela comes in the form of taxes, jobs, social commitments and royalties those projects provide.
Make sense so far? Good, but wait, the Las Cristinas story is just a wee bit more complicated. Without a program or scorecard it is not a story that is easy to understand, but it is an easy story for some to misrepresent or to manipulate for their own purposes, political or economic. (For convenience, just such "program" of the Crystallex - Las Cristinas story main players is presented at the end of this paper.)
Permit in Waiting
Part of what made the September 20 Dow Jones report and other reports that followed shortly after so sensational was that Crystallex has been waiting (and waiting and waiting) for an overdue final permit to impact natural resources which would allow heavy construction of the mine to begin. Contractors for that heavy construction are literally at the ready.
Something many writers forget, it is the responsibility of the government-controlled CVG (see the program) to obtain that final permit from MARN. So, while Crystallex has been waiting for the CVG to obtain a permit, and has already spent gobs of money on things like engineering, mine equipment, heavy mining trucks, excavators, shovels, mill equipment, road and airstrip upgrades, and so on, here comes the international press interpreting the National Executive's vague words and follow up comments by the president of the Venezuelan government company responsible for obtaining that all-important final permit as "the end of the world" for Crystallex!
As mentioned before, it was a short seller's dream come true. For Crystallex and for its shareholders it was a nightmare. Curiously, the one thing that Crystallex needed from its "partner," the government of Venezuela, during the furor was a direct expression of support from Mr. Chavez or Mr. Alvarez (see the program) which would have put investor's minds at ease. There were some supportive comments (discussed a little later) from the National Assembly, for example, but none were reported by the bloodthirsty press as coming from either the president or the minister of the MBIM.
Instead, the press focused on signals out of Venezuela that can only be described, as one reporter put it, "as intentionally vague." To those who have been following the Cristinas story for years it is infuriating to see the perception manipulated in order to satisfy a particular news organization's dislike for the political leadership of a country. Perhaps more maddening is that the reporters who fired off their incomplete and surface-only reports probably know better. It was just too tempting to raise the evil specter of "nationalization" or "expropriation." Anything to make President Chavez the next Saddam Hussein.
But, as we will see, context and understanding the history is everything in this intriguing chapter of an ongoing Latin saga.
Chavez Speaks, but What Did He Say? (And What Was He Actually Talking About?)
Freshly back in Venezuela after a trip to his favorite verbal target, the United States, the former paratrooper went on national TV several times. We have already seen the first quotes and misquotes which exploded into cyberspace courtesy of Dow Jones & Company. (Just because it is Dow Jones doesn't necessarily mean they are anti-Chavez, does it?) That is not to single out DJ. Once they got the feeding frenzy started all the international newswires jumped in for a slice.
Back to those presidential TV quote opportunities. One occasion was a gathering in Puerto Ordaz, a port city in Bolivar State to commission the start of a group of new companies set up to provide alternate employment possibilities either in the mining sector or in other areas for small miners displaced when they were removed from mining in certain areas including Las Cristinas. Did you catch that? For those who have not yet had enough coffee, that means that the president was speaking to some people recently displaced so that CVG and Crystallex could begin mining.
Lost in the over-the-top reporting of Chavez' remarks was the fact that just a couple weeks before a near riot had occurred as hundreds of small miners, many working illegally, blocked the main highway to Brazil in a protest organized by official (and unofficial) small mining leaders. A sensational story that the international guys missed about that was public the charge by Sifontes Mayor Vargas that the miners were at least partly incited and financed in their trouble-making by MINCA and MINCA supporters. (See the program.) Nowhere did the various international news services remind us that President Chavez was speaking to the unemployed, some of whom had just been removed from Las Cristinas. Nowhere did the newswires mention that the government brought in the army to protect Crystallex property and the portion of Las Cristinas that Crystallex will mine from invasion by those energized small miners.
That would be context, after all, which is apparently not a requirement to be included in an international report these days.
During the ruckus, a commission was hastily formed consisting of MBIM Minister Alvarez, MARN Minister Farias, Governor Rangel, the Minister of Defense and Sifontes mayor Vargas (see program) who met with the small miners and hammered out an agreement which allowed the miners to continue their small workings (provided they register with the new government mining company) on a portion of the enormous Las Cristinas land, but outside the area which Crystallex will be mining. That was the time when the government had brought in the army to protect the Crystallex site from invasion by those so-called "garimpiros."
While it would have been nice had Mr. Chavez uttered a word of support for Crystallex and the other mining companies who are playing by the Chavez-government rules, under those politically charged circumstances and with elections literally around the corner on December 4, it is understandable that Chavez said what he did. It would have been unseemly for the president to come out in support of any transnational company while at the same time he is ranting against those who have tied up mineral concessions but not advanced them or provided productivity to the nation.
The companies came out with clarifications and statements of course. Besieged Crystallex president Todd Bruce issued several statements as did the company heads of the other productive mining companies, but the overwhelming weight of the orgy of blind "nationalization" and "expropriation" messages delivered by the big boys of the press world was just too heavy to overcome. As always, however, sooner or later the truth oozes to the surface in spite of the press.
So What Was All the Fuss About?
It is not practical or necessary to recount all the various quotes and misquotes by all the various services who covered the story, but in order to understand how patently misleading and damaging those news stories were, it is important to examine several of the quotes. What follows is a montage of remarks attributed to the Venezuelan leader, followed by a context-reality-check those international reporters might want to review.
First example, from an AP story: (All quotes attributed to Hugo Chavez by the sources).
"I want to tell the country I've decided, after looking at this and that, to cancel all mining concessions. We're not giving more concessions to transnationals," he said.
"(Las Cristinas) is the eighth gold mine in the world, right here. And, well, that's a mess if a company from who-knows-where has the concession, then sold it to another. They sell it," Chavez said. "They go around the world saying they have this much in gold reserves, but they are never going to exploit it."
Chavez said the aim "is to recover the national power, sovereignty to manage our own resources."
And since it ties in with the AP quotes, add this one from Pete Wilson who writes for Bloomberg:
"They fooled me one time," Chavez said. "We went there, in a helicopter and all, and those officials were telling us what they would do. It was only done to win the concession, which they won..." Chavez didn't name the company.
Bereft of their context and without any plausible explanation of why the supreme leader of the country was saying what he did, the comments were left to give the sensational, but unreal impression which suited the news services.
What was "hurricane Hugo" as some of the press correspondents mockingly referred to him talking about? The first paragraph relates to an initiative by the Chavez administration to do away with concessions, which by the way is not new. The mining law was changed in 1977, 1996 and again in 1999. The country does not plan to award concessions in the future and now plans to convert existing concessions into contracts. Instead all mining concessions will remain with the state (not new) and outside companies will work under MOAs similar to the Crystallex example.
While this does represent a potential change for companies now operating under a concession, presumably when those concessions are up for renewal, or abandoned concessions, that statement does not affect Crystallex. Crystallex does not have a concession, it has a mine operating agreement with CVG. (See program).
In the second paragraph, Mr. Chavez is referring to the purported and unauthorized "sale" by the former contractor for Las Cristinas, Placer Dome, to Vannessa Ventures in 2001 just before the mining contract was set to expire. After the sale Vannessa hired Doug Casey to anchor a promotional campaign in which Vannessa was touted as having control of the mega-mine it had just "purchased" from Placer for $50. (See program for more details).
In the third paragraph Mr. Chavez is referring both to the existing policy of no more new concessions where title to mining projects remains with the state and to the new mining company being planned to administer mining operations. According to Todd Bruce, Crystallex president, if completed, that new mining company will actually streamline what has heretofore been an eclectic combination of sometimes contradictory bureaucratic agencies.
In the AP "They fooled me one time" quote, Mr. Chavez is referring once again to Placer Dome's courting of the president while they were seeking a concession for the copper at Las Cristinas. Mr. Chavez attended a ribbon cutting ceremony with rich fanfare at Las Cristinas and was toured over the project in a helicopter by Placer. (According to Crystallex execs, Crystallex never toured the president in a helicopter but Placer Dome did.) The copper concession was awarded by the government to Placer. But shortly after that high publicity event, one which promised the long suffering people of the region a stable source of employment and promised the government of Venezuela a decades-long source of mining revenue, in 1999 Placer announced it would shutter the Las Cristinas due to low gold prices.
Placer made the president look bad. An event he is likely never to forget.
While the big international news agencies probably knew about the history of the project and could have laid down that history as context for the quotes, they simply did not.
In all the stories, in all the quotes, never once did Mr. Chavez mention Crystallex, and there is a very good reason for that. It is because Mr. Chavez was not talking about that company.
The Firestorm Grew Out of Control - Massive Short Interests "Ring the Register"
Each year mining companies gather in Denver for one of the more respected conferences of the industry, the Denver Gold Forum. At the height of the news disinformation maelstrom, many Crystallex investors were glued to their computer terminals constantly refreshing to see if any more news had surfaced while at the same time tuning into various web-casts of their favorite mining company execs at the mining forum.
In the morning of Monday, September 26, CEO Todd Bruce delivered the Crystallex presentation. All set to do what he could to calm the nerves of nervous investors who had just been bludgeoned, Crystallex was once again hit with what has to have been the most appalling short-seller assist of the whole affair.
Timed to hit just prior to Mr. Bruce' presentation, Reuters reporters Zachary Howard and Ben Berkowitz launched their now infamous "un-named analyst" hatchet piece into the already bloody investor arena. A more disgraceful offering from the company whose motto is "No Spin. No Agenda. Just the Facts. As they happen." Is hard to imagine.
It was pitiful, but nevertheless very scary at the time. Howard and Berkowitz said this while Todd Bruce prepared to speak:
"DENVER, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Canada's Crystallex International Corp. is unlikely ever to mine gold at the rich Las Cristinas site in Venezuela after the South American nation's president moved last week to tighten government control of mining by revoking concessions, gold analysts said on Monday. ... "I think they (Crystallex) are done," said one well-known analyst who requested anonymity.
"Chavez says they won't mine, and Crystallex says they will. Who are you going to believe?" he said on the sidelines of the conference."
I have seen some impressive cheap shots in my time, but Mr. Howard, Mr. Berkowitz and Reuters have a trophy coming for that one. While they probably were just piling on, really, what did quoting no-name "well known analysts" add to the story besides gasoline?
At the very least, the Short Interests (see program) ought to send Messrs Howard and Berkowitz a fancy Christmas card with a nice gift certificate or something.
For the record, the Venezuela National assembly did issue a clarifying statement that got little time compared to all nationalization rhetoric. In that September 23 message, National Assembly deputy and president of the Permanent Commission of Energy and Mines Pedro Jimenez said categorically that only mine concessions considered inactive or in violation of the law would be affected.
"All those local or foreign investors that follow the law will be respected completely," he said. In the din of the manufactured cyclone that was raging, however, I don't think anyone heard him.
Enough about all of that. It is Sunday, the weather is fine and the Grandkids are calling. It's time to sum this article up.
Controversy Sometimes Equals Opportunity
It may sound like a broken record, but unless I have gotten all of this story wrong, this mournful example of a press incited feeding frenzy has once again presented a whopper of an opportunity for exposure to one of the largest gold mines to be put into production in the next decade.
I think from all the evidence in the public domain that it is very highly unlikely that the Chavez government would send packing the companies who are playing by the rules and advancing their projects. Most especially the ones invited in by his government, like Crystallex.
Mr. Chavez didn't send in the commission of ministers to negotiate with the small miners while protecting the Crystallex assets only to turn around and cut their head off. Crystallex has done more than was required of it under the terms of their MOA and even with all the fuss remains in support of the government initiatives to streamline the mining sector.
I could be wrong, but this time it looks like controversy does indeed equal opportunity for those who can stomach the high risk and higher volatility. But if I am right, it's just a shame that so many people were hurt badly by the shoot-from-the-hip international press who have long since forgotten to get the story right, first.
The above contains opinion and commentary of the author. Each person should study the issues carefully and, as always, make their own informed decisions. Disclosure: The author is currently a long shareholder in Crystallex International, but not in any other company mentioned in this article.
Las Cristinas "Program"
Venezuela: Hugo Chavez, President. Elected by popular majority in 1998. Survived a recall vote in 2004. Constitutional republic currently moving left toward full socialism under Chavez. Chavez seen as antagonistic to the United States, friendly to Marxist countries such as Cuba.
Crystallex International [AMEX:KRY; TSX:KRY]: Toronto based mining company which has operated gold mines in Venezuela for a decade. CEO Todd Bruce, former president of Iamgold Corp. (AMEX: IAG). Chairman Robert Fung, financier, Canada. COO Kenneth G. Thomas, former Barrick, Hatch geologist, engineer. VP Investor Relations Richard Marshall. KRY holds a mine operating agreement (MOA) with CVG to exploit Las Cristinas. Currently (October 2005) awaiting final approval to impact natural resources from MARN in Venezuela.
Corporacion Venezolana de Guayana (CVG): Government-owned holding company in Venezuela to administer and manage heavy industry, mining and construction in Bolivar State, et al. Current president is Chavez appointee Victor Alvarez, who doubles as the cabinet-level Minister of Basic Industries and Mining. The former president of CVG when the Crystallex MOA was inked, General Francisco Rangel Gomez, a close associate of President Chavez, has since been elected governor of Bolivar State. CVG is responsible for obtaining permits for Las Cristinas including the final permit to impact renewable natural resources from MARN.
Ministry of Basic Industries and Mining (MBIM): Government bureaucratic overseer of mining interests and holding companies such as CVG. Formally the Ministry of Energy and Mining (MEM) before early 2005 changes which split energy and hydrocarbons off from mining and heavy industry. Current cabinet level Minister is Victor Alvarez, who is also president of the CVG.
Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (Atmosphere) (MARN): Government bureaucratic overseer responsible for environmental matters. Reviews applications for mining and construction permits and is responsible for approval of environmental permitting. Jacqueline Farias is cabinet level Minister of MARN.
Sifontes Municipality: Community nearby to Las Cristinas. Current mayor is Marlene Vargas. Former mayor and now councilman Carlos Chancellor is a Crystallex antagonist.
Placer Dome [NYSE:PDG]: Vancouver based multi-national mining company. PDG formally held a contract with CVG to mine the Las Cristinas. In 2000 it wrote the project off at a reported cost of $116 million citing low gold prices, but in July 2001, hours before their mining contract was set to expire, PDG purported to sell a portion of its Venezuelan subsidiary which held Placer's interest in MINCA, a joint venture of Placer and CVG for Las Cristinas, to Calgary based Vannessa Ventures, Ltd. [TSXv:VVV] for a reported $50, a net smelter royalty (NSR) on copper of 2% and a sliding scale royalty on gold of 1% to 5% depending on the price of gold. A "sale" never recognized or approved by the government of Venezuela or CVG. In that questionable transaction to Vannessa, Placer kept a controlling "B" share, a take-back right, a buy-back right and a mortgage interest in the deal.
In March, 2002 the Placer/CVG contract was rescinded (Resolution 35) after a years-long default for non-production and after two one-year extensions had been granted by CVG to Placer. All Las Cristinas assets were returned to the nation by legislative action and National Executive decree (No. 1757) in April of 2002. Las Cristinas was then once again awarded to the CVG which entered into a new MOA with Crystallex in September 2002.
Vannessa Ventures Ltd. [TSXv:VVV]: Canadian exploration company now based in Calgary, formally from Vancouver. Antagonistic to Crystallex. John Morgan, President. Very large shareholder is reported billionaire Ron Mannix of Calgary who controls over 50% of VVV through Corel Holdings. VVV purported to gain control of Las Cristinas by buying a partial interest (one of two classes of stock) of Placer Dome de Venezuela (PDV) from Placer Dome for $50 hours before the Placer/CVG mine operating agreement through MINCA was set to expire for non-production in 2001. (See Placer Dome). A separate $50 transaction occurred reportedly for Placer's PDV debt. PDV held the Placer interest in MINCA, a joint venture of the CVG and Placer for the exploitation of Las Cristinas. Importantly, neither Vannessa nor Placer sought the required permission from the CVG and the then MEM (now MBIM) for the transaction.
From that tenuous toehold Vannessa went on to file a bevy of lawsuits in the Venezuelan courts and wage a public war of words in dozens, if not hundreds of shots in the press largely ignored by Crystallex. Despite the obvious, that the Placer contract was being terminated in 2001, through MINCA, Vannessa sought to become a party to the now cancelled Placer/CVG contract and to gain rights to mine Las Cristinas. However, the Venezuelan government never recognized that claim. Last year Vannessa withdrew its lawsuits and decided to try its luck with arbitration at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) at the World Bank in Washington D.C. While few take the Vannessa challenge to Crystallex' rights seriously, the conflict has been and could continue to be a useful tool for stock manipulators as long as it lasts.
Doug Casey: Mining analyst and subscription newsletter writer through Casey Research. Wrote two promotional special reports about VVV shortly after the questionable transaction with PDG, resulting in a rapid 300% very short-term increase in the share price of VVV. Casey was reportedly paid in Vannessa shares for the glowing reports which claimed control of the immense Las Cristinas mines even though the Placer/CVG contract was in default at the time of those writings.
Short Interests: As of September 2005 the reported short interest for Crystallex on the AMEX was nearly seven million shares, by far the highest short interest among mining companies. Due to the way that short sales are reported in Canada it is difficult to determine exactly the number, but it is likely that an equal or greater number existed there. Major short players remain a mystery (as of this writing) but probably include large unregulated hedge funds and individuals with connections to Venezuela.
Small Miners or "garimpiros." Small scale gold prospectors and operators who work in and around the gold fields in the greenstone belts surrounding Las Cristinas and other well-known mining areas in Venezuela. Many are illegal aliens to Venezuela. Many use crude and destructive methods and live in appalling conditions. Sometimes called subsistence miners.