Nowadays Venezuela is facing its worst ecocide in history since President Nicolas Maduro decreed the exploitation of the Mining Arc of the Orinoco River. The Orinoco is the largest river in the country and is the heart of the Venezuelan Amazon.
It includes the country´s largest watershed, an area of 989,000 km2, and occupies 65% of the Venezuelan area. The Government´s mining plan seeks to exploit minerals such as gold, coltan, diamonds, bauxite and other minerals across the Orinoco River basin, from its birth in Apure´s State, until its completion in the Orinoco´s Delta, an area of 111,845 km2.
The Amazon is besieged by illegal mining, paramilitaries and the FARC guerrilla
The Venezuelan Amazon, one of the wildest areas, full of wildlife, water and biodiversity, home to 19 indigenous ethnic groups with different languages, worldviews and lifestyles that depends on the forest to live, a vulnerable and unprotected population bordering Colombia and Brazil limits.
The Governor of Amazonas state and some indigenous groups have denounced the presence in this area of mining mafias which include Colombians, Brazilians, paramilitaries and armed groups like the FARC guerrilla. There are more than 3,000 illegal miners who have control of the zone, which are destroying the soil and committing all kinds of abuse with the complicity of some members of the armed forces, including murders of indigenous people.
Consequences of Mining in the Amazon
Mining uses tons of land and forests to extract a small amount of minerals. These forests and vegetation are necessary to keep the ecosystem´s moisture, the water production and life itself. On the other hand, mining pollutes water with cyanide and mercury, harming species of wildlife such as dolphins, manatees, crocodiles and countless species of birds and fish, as well as human life, especially indigenous people who survive in this ecosystem.
Recent studies found that several indigenous women have levels of mercury above the WHO (World Health Organization) recommended amount, whose children are at risk for neurological diseases. Moreover mining has left serious consequences on the native population as an increase in prostitution, alcoholism and HIV.
Military forces behind the Gold
Recently the president created the Military Company of Mining, Oil and Gas (Caminpeg) comprising all legal activities concerning oil services, gas and mining in general, without implying any limitation. It is regrettable that the military in Venezuela have been characterized by corruption and incompetence, they are not interested in preserving the environment, their interests are to obtain economical benefits at the expense of mineral, ethnic and aquifer wealth depletion in the Amazon.
The Return of Gold Reserve Company
Gold Reserve, a Canadian gold mining company had the concession to exploit the two biggest gold mines in Venezuela. However in 2008, with the barrel of oil at $100 and a booming economy President Chavez revoked the authorization to exploit gold deposits in order to regain control of the national mining industry.
In 2010, the Canadian company filed a lawsuit in an international court, which ruled in favor of Gold Reserve, stating that Venezuela should pay of 740.3 million dollars to the company for the expropriation of its participation in the gold project.
Currently with an unprecedented economic crisis and the barrel of oil at $30, the government is seeking a way to pay the Gold Reserve, and in February made an agreement to give the mines back, plus a 45% of participation in the Mining Arc of the Orinoco River project.
Right now, the Amazon is being looted, its native population is being transformed into a mining mafia and paramilitary culture by promoting slave labor, “sicarios” (hired assassins) and prostitution. The Amazonas population is being exposed to all kinds of diseases and contamination by mercury and cyanide, all of this unfortunately with the consent of the authorities and many political actors involved in the business.
In addition, we see the threat to the largest reservoir of water and biodiversity of Venezuela, which is the natural and cultural heritage of our children, grandchildren and all of humanity.
As the recently murdered Honduran activist Berta Caceres said: “Our consciences will be shaken when contemplating self-destruction made by capitalism and patriarchy”, unfortunately it seems that the Venezuelan “socialism of the XXI century” joins the party of the natural and human predation that is associated with capitalism. As Berta said, there are many threatened rivers in the world, the Orinoco River in the Venezuelan Amazon is one of them and the earth demand us to act in a committed way to preserve life, otherwise it will be hard surviving for the next generations.