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Illegal mining along the Orinoco River

Embajadores del Orinoco. June 2021

 The Orinoco River

It is one of the world’s longest rivers (2140 km). It begins between Venezuela and Brazil and ends in the Atlantic Ocean.

It is a source of great wealth:

    • Mineral: oil, gas, bauxite, coltan, iron, steel, gold, alluvial gold, diamond, copper, kaolin, dolomite, non-metallic minerals.
    • Ecological: It is home to over 100 species of animals, 300 species of birds, more than 1000 species of fish and 100’s of species of unique plant life.
    • Hydric: It has a very high flow rate (33000 m3/sec average). Used for agriculture, fishing and generation of hydro electrical power.
    • Transport: It is navigable in almost all its extension. In its lower channel reaches a width of up to 5 km and a depth of 100 m.
Map of Venezuela with the location of the Orinoco River.
Source: reference 1
Venezuela Mineral International Legal Certification.
Source: reference 2

History of gold exploitation in Venezuela

  • Late 1820’s: gold exploitation starts along the river.
  • 1829: The production of gold starts in Guayana.
  • 1866-1980: It was produced 192 M gr of gold from 10.4 M tons of processed mineral.
  • 2011: Nationalization of gold exploitation and related activities.
  • 2014 – 2018: Elimination/Replacement of the Ministry of the Environment by other 3 ministries, ending in the “Ministerio del Poder Popular para el Ecosocialismo”.
  • 2016: Orinoco Mining Arc (MA) was decreed for the purpose of promoting, deepening and facilitating all mining, especially gold, diamonds, coltan and “rare earths”. This has intensified dramatically the illegal mining activity in the area.

Map of the Orinoco Mining Arc (MA)

Source: reference 3

 

Population

More than 1,635,000 people inhabits in Orinoco Mining Arc , distributed among:

429 populated centers; where 90% of the population is in the municipal districts : Caroní, Heres, Piar, Cedeño, and Sifontes.

14 indigenous peoples, who belong to the Caribe; Yanomami and Saliva tribe: Akawayo, Arawak, Eñepa, Jivi, Kariña, Kurripako, Mapoyo, Pemón, Piapoko, Piaroa, Sáliva, Sanema, Warao and Ye’kwana.

Municipal districts in the State of Bolivar. Source: reference 4
Map of territories inhabited by indigenous peoples. Source: reference 5

 

Consequences:

Environmental Impact

Severe environmental impacts on terrestrial/aquatic ecosystems, biological diversity:

From 2002 to 2020, Venezuela lost 533kha of humid primary forest, making up 25% of its total tree cover loss in the same time period. Total area of humid primary forest in Venezuela decreased by 1.4% in this time period.

23 species of mammals that inhabit this region are threatened with extinction. Species like the Orinoco manatee (Trichechus manatus), the giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus), the major sucker bat (Thyroptera lavali) and the southern spider monkey (Ateles belzebuth) are almost exclusive inhabitants of the Amazon and Venezuelan Guiana, where the main threat is habitat loss.

 

Consequences:

Health Impact

Severe impact on the health and well-being of the area inhabitants, including indigenous and Criollos:

  • Malaria outbreak: between 2000 and 2018, there were 1.97 million cases reported – a 1260% increase, from 29,736 cases in 2000 to 404,924 in 2018.
  • Outbreak of vaccine-preventable diseases: 1) Measles: from 0 cases in 2016 to, 7054 cases confirmed between 2017 and 2019 (including 84 deaths, from which 62 were from indigenous groups); 2) Diphtheria: from 2016 to 2020, there had been 1,790 cases confirmed, including 294 deaths.
  • HIV/AIDS: In 2017, at least 30% of the men population, in the Waraos indigenous community, were infected with HIV without receiving any type of treatment.
  • Mercury poisoning (more than 90% of mill workers have Hg levels in their urine above the alert level, 0.5 μg/g).

 

Consequences:

Human Rights Violations by Criminal Activity

Human rights violations linked to illegal mining in the Venezuelan Amazon states have been extensively documented in numerous studies and official reports by Venezuelan and international NGOs and by the UN High Commissioner of Human rights.
Furthermore, beyond human rights violations, there is solid and abunadant evidence of Crimes Against Humanity committed in this region affecting, as it is often the case, the most vulnerable population and our indigenous communtities. This includes masacres (38 masacres reported between 2012 and 2020), extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances.
Below is just a list of a few sources in (English and Spanish) on this topic.

 

References

  • Río Orinoco | La guía de Geografía (laguia2000.com)
  • Venezuela’s Orinoco Mining Arc: A literature review of Environmental Impacts (ijsrp.org)
  • Arco Minero del Orinoco (AMO): un modelo de minería responsable – Ministerio de Desarrollo Minero Ecológico
  • “Ciudad Bolívar, estado Bolívar-Venezuela”: Estado Bolívar: Venezuela (miguelhernandezestadobolivarvenezuela.blogspot.com)
  • Mapas para entender al Arco Minero del Orinoco (periodicoellibertario.blogspot.com)
  • RÍO ORINOCO: Ubicación, Longitud, Cuenca, y mucho más. (riosdelplaneta.com)
  • SOS Orinoco – Help save the Orinoco Region of Venezuela
  • Characterization-and-Analysis-of-Some-Key-Socio-Environmental-Variables-in-the-Orinoco-Mining-Arc.pdf (sosorinoco.org)
  • How did the Orinoco River Influence the Growth of South America | Actforlibraries.org
  • Animales en peligro de extinción en el Delta del Orinoco: El Manati (extincionorinoco.blogspot.com)
  • LA_GRAN_CUENCA_DEL_ORINOCO.pdf (unal.edu.co)
  • Undermining Rights: Indigenous Lands and Mining in the Amazon | World Resources Institute (wri.org)
  • Malaria in Venezuela – Situation Report A Resurgent Epidemic in a Complex Humanitarian Emergency – SOS Orinoco
  • Pronunciamiento ante la grave epidemia de Malaria en Venezuela (ovsalud.org)
  • Malaria in Venezuela: changes in the complexity of infection reflects the increment in transmission intensity | Malaria Journal | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
  • Seis epidemias en Venezuela generan alarma (diariolasamericas.com)
  • Arco Minero Destroys Venezuelan Forests | Global Forest Watch Blog
  • 12 Animales en Peligro de Extinción en Venezuela【2020】 (animalespeligroextincion.org)
  • Clima21 – Ambiente y Derechos Humanos | El medio ambiente es el primer derecho de la humanidad (ddhhcambioclimatico.org)
  • UNEP – UN Environment Programme
  • Sobre el Arco Minero y los Pueblos Indígenas | Revista SIC – Centro Gumilla