MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Mining operations in Mazaruni indefensible

Published by MAC on 2003-07-09

Mining operations in Mazaruni indefensible

From: Stabroek News

9 July 2003

The Amerindian People's Association (APA) has sharply criticised head of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), Robeson Benn for what it says was his attempt to defend the environmental degradation in the Mazaruni river.

Benn, in a recent interview with Stabroek News, downplayed claims that a dredge was piling up tailings in sections of the Mazaruni River and might not be conforming to mining regulations. Benn maintains that even without the intervention of the dredges, sandbanks would be moving down the river.

But the APA on Friday said such comments were "misleading and a deliberate attempt to defend the environmental degradation in the Mazaruni caused by licensed mining operations." According to a joint statement from Toshao Anderson Hastings of Kako and former Toshao Lawrence Anselmo of Paruima, Upper Mazaruni, it is the operation by miners that has caused the build up of tailings and water contamination in the Mazaruni River.

"These have caused severe problems to the communities in and around the mining areas. While there are some sandbanks that were naturally formed, it is highly irresponsible for the Commissioner to suggest that mining has not caused most of the sandbanks in the Mazaruni River when there is more than ample evidence to prove otherwise."

The APA said many complaints were made, in writing, to Prime Minister Sam Hinds and the GGMC, by residents of some of the communities affected by the mining operations. The organisation said the problem of navigation was also highlighted, but despite the many pleas, not much was done to address the concerns.

"It is not common to see sandbanks building up in the middle of the river in a short space of time and disrupting navigation. Our ancestors have navigated this river for centuries without playing hide and seek with numerous sandbanks. These sandbanks are created by mining activities in the form of tailings. The river does not remain high throughout the year and therefore, tailings cause even more inconvenience for those of us travelling by river during the dry season. The truth is that miners do not comply with the regulations."

The APA said Benn's call for miners to regulate themselves was an exercise in futility, since most miners did not live in the area, therefore, the destruction of the environment and the consequent threat to people's lives did not matter to them.

"We live there and observe the way these miners operate. If Mr Benn should spend six months in the Mazaruni, camouflage his identity and have a look at the way miners behave, he would think differently. Communities have made recommendations to the GGMC in the past as to how to deal with the mining problems. We have asked that community members be trained to do the monitoring of activities ourselves. While this was accepted, it seems as though this idea is shelved somewhere. In the meantime, more huge dredging equipment is being permitted by the GGMC to work in the Mazaruni River to the detriment of the surrounding communities. Meetings with GGMC, Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and the Prime Minister have not yielded fruit. We challenge the Commissioner to carry out his responsibilities in a responsible and humanitarian manner. Being the Commissioner responsible for mining means that you are also responsible for the well-being of all those involved in and affected by the effects of mining," the organisation said.

More investment expected from Brazilian miners with use of Guyana/Brazil road Between US$10-US$15M already invested More investment in the local economy is anticipated through the transport and utilization of mining equipment by Brazilian miners since their use of the Guyana/Brazil road should be more cost effective to their operations, according to Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Robeson Benn.

At the moment the foreign nationals transport their equipment to Guyana via sea for small and medium scale mining operations. "We have to recognise the presence of the non-nationals as a representation of foreign exchange into Guyana," Benn said in a recent interview with the Government Information Agency (GINA). He placed investments made into the local economy by the Brazilian miners between US$10M to US$15M over the past few years.

Guyana's increased declarations in diamond mining over the past two years has been linked to the presence of Brazilian miners whose employment of new technology has yielded positive results. Benn said further that because of Guyana's porous borders there might always be a large float of persons entering the country, but he confirmed that some 15 to 20 non-nationals are currently at various stages of being documented.

The GGMC Commissioner noted that work permits and accompanying documentation were originally intended for use by non-nationals upon their arrival through the regular port of entry, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri. However, he pointed out, because of Guyana's close proximity to Brazil by virtue of the Lethem trail, a significant number of Brazilian miners come into the country to work in the diamond field, GINA reported.

"There are a number of persons who are at various stages of regularisation in terms of documentation," Benn disclosed, adding that if a person moves from one mining district to another, his mining privilege has to be changed.

He also said that the GGMC and the Ministry of Home Affairs are continuously engaged in regularisation exercises to ensure the proper documentation of non-nationals working in the minefields. However, Benn noted, expulsion is the most stringent sanction legal authorities could implement against undocumented non-nationals, but this would damage the mining industry.

Meanwhile, a high-level team from the Ministry of Home Affairs and technical officers from agencies tasked with establishing the physical infrastructure of the Guyana/Brazil Road Transport Agreement recently visted Lethem to examine the Lethem-to-Linden road project, GINA said. The visit represents part of this country's efforts towards the implementation of the Guyana-Brazil Road Transport Agreement which will govern the physical movement of goods and people between the two countries following the completion of the road. According to GINA, the visiting delegation is expected to identify possible locations for the establishment of police stations and outposts, customs, immigration and forest wardens' checkpoints, truck and bus stops and sanitary conveniences. In addition, the team is to earmark likely points for traffic signs along the road that will link Guyana to its southern neighbour.

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