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Venezuela has an Indigenous Mining Arc that is destroying national parks: Expert

Kukenan tepui and river in the Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Photo by Alex Jesús Cabello Leiva, Wikimedia Commons.

Venezuelan scholar and forestry expert, José Rafael Lozada, is making public a series of videos where he demonstrates that besides the polemic Mining Arc of the Orinoco, there is another mining arc devastating Venezuela’s Canaima National Park, which is a Unesco world heritage site, as well as the Caura National Park and the Southern Bolívar State Protective Zone.

Lozada calls the area ‘Indigenous Mining Arc’ and, according to his review of media stories, interviews with local sources and research trips to the area, it is the product of a series of deals that the Pemón tribe made with both the current Nicolás Maduro regime and the former Hugo Chávez regime.

Video in Spanish with English captions by José Rafael Lozada.

Besides the archival documentation, the expert analyzes satellite and Google Earth images from different years and shows how massive placer gold mining operations that employ dredges have grown anarchically in protected areas. At least three dozen mines of different sizes appear in the region. However, digging deeper using the Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network, Lozada is able to identify over 1,000 ‘mining spots’ or smaller operations.

Located to the south of the southeastern Bolívar state, Canaima National Park is the area that hosts the region’s most important rivers watersheds. For example, the entire watershed of the right bank of the Caroní River -the one that generates most of the country’s hydroelectric power- is within the park as are two of the highest waterfalls in the world, Angel Falls and the Kukenán falls. The park also hosts the main forest that connects with the Amazon and the plateaus of rock called tepui formations.

According to Lozada, some of the mines detected there occupy more than 150 hectares and are not only close to important freshwater sources but also to Indigenous towns such as Campo Alegre, where a namesake mine is causing methylmercury or acid rock drainage contamination. Such conclusion is based on what Google Earth presents. The app also shows that the operation, which is also next to the Kukenán river, probably started around 2007 and has been growing ever since.

The red circle signals the Indigenous Mining Arc. Image by José Rafael Lozada.

Following the course of the Kukenán river on Google Earth up to the point where it joins the Aponwao river and both rivers ‘give birth’ to the Caroní river, Lozada shows satellite images of mining works which he saw in person back in 2009. Sediments from these mines -he explains- threaten the Guri dam lake, which feeds from the Caroní and the Paragua rivers and is responsible for 80% of Venezuela’s electricity.

South of this area, along both margins of the Icabarú river, several mines can be observed. As he shows this, the expert explains that this is an area where there is no road and that is only accessible by curiara -motorized canoes operated by Indigenous people. 

“The riverine forests around the Icabarú river are being intensely destroyed,” he says in one of the videos. “The river shows a brownish colour which is evidence of mine residue contamination.” 

Following his examination -which he also submitted to a peer-reviewed publication-, Lozada concludes that there is evidence of numerous extractive activities in the Canaima and Caura national parks that started more than a decade ago. This means that such activities have nothing to do with the Mining Arc of the Orinoco River, which was created by decree on February 24, 2016.

The problem -he says- is that the existence of the Indigenous Mining Arc is being ignored, as is the fact that, by law, Indigenous peoples in Venezuela are obliged to collaborate in the protection of national parks and natural resources.