SLIDESHOW: The illicit trade in coltan

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In the Venezuelan town of Parguaza, coltan is exploited in improvised mines.

Joseph Poliszuk/ICIJ

To reach their claims, coltan miners walk for hours or days.

Joseph Poliszuk/ICIJ

Miners remove the surface of the earth with picks looking for coltan.

Joseph Poliszuk/ICIJ

Miners use their hands to scratch in the earth and select the stones that look like coltan.

Joseph Poliszuk/ICIJ

Venezuelan soldiers seized machinery that was allegedly used to exploit columbite (a component of coltan).

Joseph Poliszuk/ICIJ

Miners weigh the stones with their hands to distinguish coltan from other minerals. Coltan is almost black and weighs more.

Joseph Poliszuk/ICIJ

Coltan is smuggled across the Orinoco river, which marks part of the border between Venezuela and Colombia.

Joseph Poliszuk/ICIJ

One of the ways for Venezuelan smuggled coltan to reach Colombia is through Puerto Carreño.

Joseph Poliszuk/ICIJ

Motorboats arrive in Puerto Carreño, Colombia, from port of El Burro in Venezuela. Citizens cross the border easily; they only need an identity card.

Joseph Poliszuk/ICIJ