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Venezuelan NGO asks government to kill Mining Arch decree

Miners at the Venezuelan town of El Callao in the Bolívar state (Photo: Ferrero).

An NGO based in the southern Bolívar state is calling the Venezuelan government to kill the 2016 decree that creates the Mining Arch of the Orinoco River National Development Strategic Zone. This is a 111,843 Sq.Km concession area for mining gold, diamond, iron, copper, bauxite, coltan, among other resources, that has caught the attention of some 150 companies from 35 countries.

According to the Observatorio Guayana Sustentable, the decree contravenes at least four international treaties, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and violates nine national laws and bylaws, as well as four articles of the Bolivarian Constitution.

Members of the NGO, most of them environmentalists, lawyers, engineers, geologists, and mining experts, sent out a press release where they blast the fact that the decree does not call for a comprehensive environmental and socio-cultural assessment prior to the approval of activities that might have negative impacts on the ecosystems adjacents to the Arch.

According to the notice, with the creation of the Mining Arch the State would act against articles 127, 128 and 129 of the Constitution because “it is not guaranteeing that the local population will have a clean environment where the air, water, soil, climate, and living species are protected.”

Quite the opposite, the NGO says. “The State would be promoting activities that damage the environment because it is not complying with Article 128 of the Constitution, which calls for a land management policy that pays attention to considerations in the ecological, geographical, population, social, cultural, economic and political realms, while observing best practices of sustainable development.”

With this statement, Observatorio Guayana Sustentable joins the list of nonprofits, academic institutions and other organizations that are asking for a total halt of extractive activities on ancestral lands in the Amazonas, Delta Amacuro and Bolívar states.

If pollution starts spreading particularly in the latter, the OGS says, the entire country would be affected. “This state occupies the 9th place worldwide when it comes to biodiversity. It is covered by 18,000 hectares of forests, it holds 80 per cent of Venezuela’s water reserves and it produces 75 per cent of the country’s energy. On top of that, 85 per cent of its territory is protected land,” reads the release.

The experts also say that the decree that creates the Mining Arch is inconsistent when it comes to the delimitation of the area and lends itself to the creation of “a State within another State where local governments would be ignored and only military rulings would be obeyed.”

Besides calling for the derogation of the decree, Observatorio Guayana Sustentable asks the Nicolás Maduro government to review the improvements they made to a 2016 document titled “Guayana’s Manifesto against the Mining Arch of the Orinoco River,” where local communities and experts present a series of recommendations to address the dangers posed by the Mining Arch.

Illegal gold mining Venezuela causing deaths, malaria, gang fights and deforestationGangs and mafias are fighting for the gold in the Venezuelan forests, while miners die because of the unlicensed and unsupervised mining in the Amazon forest. (Image courtesy of Venezuela Ministry of Tourism)

The activists say it is urgent to update and put into effect the Plan for the Territorial Management of the Bolívar State, so that the economic and social activities that take place in the area go hand in hand with an adequate care for the environment. It must be noted that the state is already facing dire environmental threats caused by a sprawling illegal mining industry.

The NGO also asks the central government to partially reform the National Decree 2,165, so that the National Assembly, and not the executive branch, is allowed to review and approve mining contracts.