MAC: Mines and Communities

Disputes over mineral resources in Venezuela

Published by MAC on 2005-09-22

Conflicts over natural resources are nothing new in Latin America. Venezuela has long-standing disputes, especially in Bolívar State, between indigenous communities, small-scale miners and multinationals.

The government now seems at the centre of pressure from those opposed interests, with
artisanal miners currently in the ascendant, thus motivating President Chavez in his recent "anti-multinational" statements. If small miners and local groups now achieve effective mobilisation, Chavez may have to turn decisively against the multinationals.

However, he is not going to do so on his own: there are those in government that have fallen under the influence of the transnational lobby. Everyone takes care of their own game and it is difficult to predict the final outcome.

Venezuela Limits Foreign Mining Operations

Thursday, September 22 2005

Bernardo Delgado -

Caracas, Venezuela —President Chavez announced on Tuesday that Venezuela would no longer provide private, national, or foreign mining concessions. “There will no longer be mining concessions. We have to make a big turnaround,” said Chavez.

Chavez made the announcement during a ceremony making the creation of 125 Social Production Companies that are part of Venezuela’s complex of state-owned mining and metal production and processing, the Venezuelan Corporation of Guyana (CVG).

Instead of providing mining concessions to foreign or domestic companies, Venezuela plans to create a national state-owned mining company that would take charge of all mining activities in the country. “We are going to launch a national mining company of our own – we do not need [outside] investment,” said Chavez. Foreign companies must respect Venezuela’s constitution and pay their taxes, stated Chavez, and if they don’t, “they should leave. We can manage on our own.”

Since late last year the Chavez government has been engaging in an effort to get transnational companies doing business in Venezuela to pay more taxes and royalties on their oil production activity. Also, it is forcing companies to enter into joint ventures with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA, where foreign companies would hold a maximum 49% ownership. Venezuela’s Ministry of Energy and Petroleum says foreign companies owe as much as $3 billion to the Venezuelan state in back taxes.

Venezuela currently has mining concessions granted by previous governments with the U.S mining company Hecla Mining and the Canadian company Crystallex. According to Crystallex’s CEO, Todd Bruce, the creation of a Venezuelan state-owned mining company would not affect its contract to mine in Las Cristinas, as it would be administered by the new mining company, since its mining activities do not constitute a concession.

“The Las Cristinas deposit is indeed owned by Venezuela and administered through the CVG, which is a regional natural resource development arm of the central government,” Bruce said. “The CVG has contracted Crystallex . . . Our contract is founded and premised upon the ownership of the resource by the Republic of Venezuela.”

The Las Cristinas mine is expected to produce about 300,000 ounces (8,400 kg) of gold per year. Crystallex intends to invest $256 building the mine and a processing plant. The deposit is estimated to hold over 10 million ounces of gold, which makes it one of the largest gold deposits in Latin America. Venezuela currently produces about 20,000 kg of gold per year.

A conflict has developed, however, with local indigenous groups, which argue that Las Cristinas would cause environmental damage and disrupt indigenous communities.

Other conflicts in the region involve largely illegal small miners and Crystallex. National Assembly Deputy Pedro Jimenez Flores said that the National Assembly would investigate the conflicts.

Newmont, Placer Say New Rule Will Hurt Venezuela Mine Prospects


September 30 2005

Newmont Mining Corp., Placer Dome Inc. and Goldcorp Inc., three of the world's top gold producers, say Venezuela's plan to cancel mining rights for some companies will make future investments in the country unlikely.

"We've stayed away from Venezuela, purposely I will say, because of the difficulty of trying to get titles of any kind in that country,'' said Pierre Lassonde, president of Denver-based Newmont, the world's largest gold producer. "This makes it that much harder for this industry to grow in the future.''

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sept. 20 he would cancel some unused mining rights and create a state-owned agency to exploit the nation's gold and mineral reserves. Chavez, who slashed Venezuela's oil output to boost prices when he took office in 1999, this week threatened to oust private oil companies that don't pay back taxes.

"Chavez scares the crap out of me,'' said Jonathan Goodman, 43, chief executive of Toronto-based Dundee Precious Metals Inc., which is building gold mines in Bulgaria.

Shares of companies active in Venezuela, the fifth-largest gold producer in South America, plunged after Chavez's announcement. Toronto-based Crystallex International Corp., which is trying to develop the Las Cristinas mine in Bolivar, plunged 45 percent since Sept. 19. Gold Reserve Inc. is down 38 percent and Bolivar Gold Corp. has dropped 11 percent.

Chavez said mining companies have deceived the government by making promises to receive concessions and then failed to fulfill those agreements by developing the projects. Venezuela wants to spur development of its gold reserves at a time when prices are up 15 percent in the past year and reached a 17-year high of $479 on Sept. 22.

Revoking Contracts

"All concessions and contracts, without exception, are being submitted to a review,'' Heavy Industries and Mining Minister Victor Alvarez said in a Sept. 27 television interview. Those that can't justify inactivity, "will expire or be rescinded,'' he said.

For mining executives, the shift in Venezuela is in sharp contrast to the welcome many companies received from Venezuela and other governments in Latin America during the 1990s.

A surge of investment in the region led to a jump in production to 411 metric tons last year from 286.3 tons in 1995, according to London-based GFMS Ltd., a precious metals research company. In South Africa, the world's top gold producer, output fell to 342.7 tons from 522.4 tons during the same period.

Shutting Down

"The whole continent of South America opened up for exploration and there were a lot of new discoveries,'' Newmont's Lassonde said in a Sept. 26 interview. "Today, it's just the opposite. Some of these continents are starting to shut down.''

Venezuela's gold output has lagged growth in the rest of Latin America, growing to 20.5 tons last year from 17.1 tons in 1995, according to GFMS.

"Certainly there's some geological opportunities there, but at this point we think the politics is too uncertain,'' said Ian Telfer, chief executive of Toronto-based Goldcorp, owner of Canada's biggest gold mine. "They will get it resolved, but at this point we're just sitting back.''

Vancouver-based Placer Dome, the former owner of Crystallex's Las Cristinas project in Venezuela, left the country five years ago.

"We left there because we didn't think Venezuela was a good place to be,'' Chief Executive Peter Tomsett said in a Sept. 27 interview in Denver.

Nationalization Unlikely

"You have to look at Latin America on a country by country basis,'' Tomsett said. "As a whole, some parts of Latin America are difficult places to operate. At the same time, we're just about to commit $1.3 billion to the Dominican Republic. So we think that is a good place to operate.''

Some analysts don't expect a wholesale nationalization of Venezuela's mining industry.

"There will probably be a shift from concessions to operating agreements, giving the government more control,'' said Patrick Esteruelas, an analyst at New York-based Eurasia Group. "The government may take over concessions from smaller companies, companies that aren't working on the fields.''

Hecla Mining Co. went into Venezuela in 1999 and is now the country's largest gold producer, said Phillips Baker, chief executive of the Coeur D'Alene Mines Inc., Idaho-based gold and silver producer.

Operate Properties

"When you boil it all down, what the government is looking for is companies to come in and operate their properties,'' Baker said. "And that's what we've been doing since we've been there. We've very comfortable being there.''

Crystallex Chief Executive Todd Bruce said Chavez's decision won't affect his company's Las Cristinas project.

"Absolutely nothing we've seen or experienced or been advised would reflect a fundamental problem of getting the permit'' to start production at Las Cristinas, Bruce said in a Sept. 26 interview in Denver.

When Chavez was speaking about companies that haven't developed their properties, "he was talking about Placer Dome,'' Bruce said. "It had nothing to do with us. Since we've had the project since September 2002, we have advanced it tremendously.''

Crystallex has spent $90 million on Las Cristinas, and has contracts to spend another $160 million on "long lead'' items such as ball mills and crushers. "We have been extremely active and are ready to go obviously the minute we get this final permit,'' he said.

Chavez is "absolutely committed to addressing one of the most fundamental dilemmas in Venezuela, in fact much of the developing world, and that is the issue of underlying poverty of a very substantial portion of the population in a country that is very rich, rich in natural resources,'' Bruce said.

Resource Investor: Hecla Mining "comfortable" with Venezuelan uncertainty

Tuesday, September 27, 2005's Jon A. Nones writes that from the group of foreign miners Resource Investor has looked at in Venezuela, Hecla Mining on the surface appears to be the least affected by the news last week.

Although the company’s share price lost 34 cents or 8% to close at $3.91 when President Hugo Chavez’ comments hit the street, its now trading at $4.14. Yesterday’s close was $4.35, so it seems apparent that the market has brushed it off as far as Hecla is concerned.

However, Hecla currently has $7 million already invested in exploration in Venezuela, with concessions still waiting for permits. So the question is, how will the recent events affect Hecla’s future decisions in Venezuela?

First off, Hecla is a very diversified miner with operating silver and gold projects in the United States and Mexico, in addition to Venezuela. It has been a silver miner for 100 years and a gold miner for 30 years. The company has four active mines: Green Creek in Alaska, Lucky Friday in Idaho (its flagship project), San Sebastian in Mexico and La Camorra in Venezuela. Last year, Hecla produced 6.65 million ounces of silver and 155,000 ounces of gold.

Although the La Camorra mine in Venezuela produced the most gold at 120,000 ounces last year, it’s easy to see how Hecla would more easily recover from the Venezuela news than other miners. Plus, the company’s La Camorra mine is already producing under an operating contract with the Venezuelan Guayana Corporation (CVG), which puts it on the safe list, according to well-circulated news release by National Assembly deputy Pedro Jimenez Flores. Okay, but what of the exploration program?

Hecla president and CEO Phillips S. Baker, Jr. admitted at the Denver Gold Forum that the company has had to curb plans because of the news in Venezuela. Resource Investor tracked him down for some exclusive thoughts. “There’s been some ground we were going to pick up, but we backed off because of uncertainty,” he said. “We’d like to grow our land package there, but now’s not the time.”

Baker added that the company still needs some permits to begin projects in other areas. “If we get the permits, we’ll start drilling,” Baker quite simply said. “I think there’s great opportunities if we get the permits and we can expand our resources, but if not, we’ll continue the way we’re going,” he added.

According to Baker, Hecla has built a good relationship with the Venezuelan government. “When you boil it down, the Venezuela government is looking for companies to come in and mine the properties properly. That’s what we’ve been doing,” he said.

Hecla has also supported more than 20 different local mining groups in the area, Baker added. “With all the noise that’s been happening in Venezuela, we’re still comfortable and happy to be there,” he said.

However, it still remains to be seen how much the news will affect Hecla’s future exploration and pending permits. Baker concluded by alluding to this uncertainty. “We don’t have any specific knowledge of how long it’s going to take to put [Venezuela’s new mining strategy] in place.”

Venezuelan Chamber of Mines issues formal statement in support of government policy to regulate mining industry

Friday, September 30, 2005

The Venezuelan Chamber of Mines (CamiVen), representing the main public and private, national and foreign mining companies with operations and investments in Venezuela, has issued a statement in support of the government's move to regulate the country's mining industry.

Textually (in English translation) the statement reads:

CAMIVEN agrees with the National Executive on the necessity to review the granted mining rights in Guayana, especially those that are inactive or have been abandoned.

The companies (which are) members of CAMIVEN are active and in different development stages of their mining rights. Our mining companies comply with their legal, environmental and taxation obligations.

Additionally; they apply criteria and national and international norms that are environmentally sustainable and of social inclusion in its operations and activities.

The positive result of the social and environmental involvement of the mining companies was presented at the 9th Mining Working Meeting on September 15 in Caracas.

Certainly, a significant number of areas with mining rights in Guayana are inactive; many of them by not having environmental authorizations, some of them maintained by government companies, others because they are located in reserved areas and others by simple abandonment.

These areas must be renewed, their use defined and have them submitted to a clear legal and operative regime with the objective of having them developed.

CAMIVEN supports the creation of a state mining company as a motor to develop the Guayana mining sector, which provides technological, financial and environmental assistance to the small scale mining and builds and operates the infrastructure for processing the ore produced by this sector, assuring taxation payments, the mitigation and environmental recovery and the fulfillment of applicable norms.

The small-scale mining activity of the region has been seen as benefited with the assignment of an important number of areas that total tens of thousands of hectares, in which there is a need for government and private company support to consolidate these mining exploitations with investment, technology and environmental impact mitigations measures.

The idea would be that that the small-scale mining activity becomes industrialized at a small scale and that is maintained through more rational exploitation and with better recovery technologies, instead of continuing to demand more areas from the government to work to replace prematurely exhausted ore deposits.

Private industry -- formal and integral -- gold and diamond mining in Guayana, affiliated with CAMIVEN, currently employs more than 3,000 people directly and several times that number, indirectly. This, together with more than 800 people employed directly by the Bolivar State, constitutes the main industry and the main formal employer outside Ciudad Guayana (Puerto Ordaz plus San Felix), thus benefiting more than 50,000 people in the south of Bolivar State.

CAMIVEN considers that the new government policy for the (mining) sector could be beneficial for Guayana and its people, and equally for the rest of the country.

The policy must be sustained through the natural convergence of public and private investment with respect to existing mining rights and with measures to promote and motivate investment, transfer of technology and the creation of down stream applications for mineral products; all within the criteria of social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

CAMIVEN and its company-members are ready to assume such a commitment jointly with the government and the rest of the productive factors.

Caracas, September 22, 2005

The Venezuelan Chamber of Mines (CAMIVEN), is a non-governmental non-profit organization promoting the development of the Venezuelan mining sector to the highest standards of Social Responsibility.

Venezuela: Crystallex Out

26th September 2005

Councilman and former Mayor of Sifontes municipality, Carlos Chancelor, demanded the immediate cease of the contract that Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG) signed with Crystallex to operate Las Cristinas gold deposit.

Chancelor, who belongs to the leftist party La Causa R, denounced that Crystallex breached the contract for the mine remains idle. He also accused the Canadian company of having established "a terrorist regime that utilizes a private security corps that prosecutes, threats and abuses the 3.000 Venezuelan miners that traditionally have worked in the area".

This situation caused the protest that took place weeks ago, when the miners blocked the highway to Brazil to claim their rights. "Graver still" added the councilman, "is that Venezuelan authorities have sided with the Canadian company".

"Crystallex counts on the total support of the armed forces, the judiciary, the executive, the governorship of Bolivar state and the mayoralty of Sifontes" he denounced. The proof of this claim is the legal process against him and four other leaders (the latter from Chavez's ruling party MVR) due to the protests.

Chancelor proposed "to organize the people in a highly productive social enterprise to exploit Las Cristinas gold deposit, with an environmentally sustainable project, government financing and active participation of miners". He also requested the legalization of all small-scale mining areas.

Venezuela: Fuera Crystallex

Lunes 26 de Septiembre de 2005

El concejal y ex alcalde del municipio Sifontes, Carlos Chancelor, no precisó si estaba de acuerdo con el plan gubernamental de cancelar todas las concesiones, pero exigió el cese inmediato del contrato que la Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG) otorgó a Crystallex para operar la mina Las Cristinas.

Chancelor, quien pertenece a La Causa R, denunció que esta empresa incumplió el contrato –pues mantiene inactiva la mina– y además instauró un “régimen terrorista utilizando un cuerpo de vigilancia privado que persigue, atropella y amenaza a 3.000 mineros que tradicionalmente han trabajado en el área”.

Esa situación fue la que provocó “el estallido social” ocurrido semanas atrás, cuando los pequeños mineros trancaron la autopista hacia Brasil para reclamar sus derechos. Lo que molesta más, agregó el concejal, es que las autoridades venezolanas están parcializadas con la empresa canadiense.

“Crystallex recibe el respaldo total de la Fuerza Armada, el Poder Judicial, el Ejecutivo nacional, la Gobernación de Bolívar y la Alcaldía de Sifontes”, denunció. Dice que prueba de ello es el procedimiento abierto contra él y cuatro dirigentes más (estos últimos militantes del MVR) por las protestas.

Chancelor propuso “organizar al pueblo en una gran empresa de producción social para explotar la mina Las Cristinas. Con un proyecto ambientalmente sustentable, financiamiento del Estado y participación activa del pueblo minero”. Pidió, además, la legalización de todas las áreas de pequeña minería.

Venezuela gets to grip with corruption-ridden mining sector; AP breaks wind! editor & publisher Roy S. Carson writes: Continuing its disinformation thrust, and in the face of official statements from the Venezuelan government, the Associated Press is continuing to insist that Venezuela has "backed off a mining license threat."

Correctly reporting that "foreign companies abiding by Venezuelan law will not have their mining licenses canceled by the government," the US-based news (?) agency had misreported last week statements by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez which were little more than a policy statement that the (Venezuelan) government had decided to revoke idle mining concessions and to stop issuing concessions per se to foreign (and domestic) companies.

The statement was nothing new to Venezuela's mining industry which had already been put on notice that the Chavez administration was not going to sit idly by and watch fat cat investors grow rich by doing nothing with concessions granted decades ago, where they should be creating jobs and mining precious metals and stones from government-owned land.

National Assembly (AN) permanent parliamentary Energy and Mines Commission president, Pedro Jimenez was forced to explain, Friday, that the move to create a new national mining corporation would only encompass concessions which the government (and the courts) consider to be inactive or in violation of (Venezuelan) law ... put quite simply "All investors that follow the law will be respected completely!"

The statement clarified a legal situation that has remained unchanged throughout the Chavez presidency and, from all indications, will remain the same for many years to come ... "put up, or get out!"

Stock market opportunists, however, leapt on investor's machine translations from Spanish to English and got everything completely haywire ... panicking to sell in what they anticipated to be a wholesale NATIONALIZATION of Venezuela's mining sector, apparently ignorant of the fact that it had already been nationalized close to thirty years ago in 1976 ... and by another pro-USA government!

Jimenez told the media, Friday, that existing projects were not at risk ... dependent, of course, on the continued endeavors and goodwill of those entrusted to fulfill the terms and conditions of explicit mine operating contracts.

Worst hit in the stock market freefall was Toronto-based Crystallex International with disinformers ('bashers') working overtime on anonymous trading forums to panic 'nervous nellies' into ditching their holdings at bargain basement prices with an eye to making huge profits the following days when Crystallex surged 23% on the clarifying news.

Jimenez left North American paranoiacs in no doubt saying "the Las Cristinas project is of vital importance for Venezuela and is needed for the local economy ... the project includes a contract with Crystallex and small groups of miners ... Venezuelans know that this Canadian company has made efforts to alleviate social tensions in the area!"

Catching their breath, Crystallex officials insisted that their company remains on track to begin commercial gold production in the second half of next year, at an initial rate of about 300,000 ounces a year ... the "mere formality" of final environmental permits are all the company is waiting for to kick-start what is considered to be one of the largest gold-mining projects in South America if not the world.

Nevertheless, AP, Reuters and hack journalists in shackles to Venezuela's opposition media are hell bent on keeping up the pretense that Venezuela is about to be plunged into alternatively Cuba-style 'Communism' or Pinochet-style dictatorship.

Take your pick, it'll be amusing to see what tack the international wire services will take to wipe last week's egg of their faces as Venezuela gets to grip with a corruption-ridden mining sector against all the odds and all the heavy-barreled black-bag propaganda launched against it in the last seven days!

Indigenous communities reject Ministry decision to allow small miners in

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Patrick J. O'Donoghue

19 Captains of Venezuela's Guayana region indigenous communities are contesting a Basic Industries & Mining (Mibam) Ministry decision to allow mining in their territories.

Indian community leaders say current confrontations with small miners are verbal but could aggravate into more serious violence.

The indigenous communities are situated in Sifontes municipality Cuyuni sector and the leaders argue that permits to small miners will be the death knoll of their communities.

Cuyani sector general secretary, Jose Calderon has told Guayana broadsheet, Correo del Orinoco that Minister Victor Alvarez' decision to allow the development of small mining has provoked an invasion scenario.

"In the Apanau community on the Gran Sabana highway kilometer 38, the miners are up in arms and we will not allow them in."

The Indians claim they were not consulted about the ecological impact of the decision.

The 19 Captains, representing the following ethnic groups: Pemon, Akawaio, Karina and Arawak, have sent the Minister a letter, rejecting the measure and demanding his presence to explain the reasons behind his decision.

Some Captains complain that although the Constitution recognizes their rights, their situation has not really improved when it comes to relevant and important decisions.

Crystallex insists Las Cristinas contract safe

Thursday September 22, 2005

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Crystallex International Corp. (KRY.TO: Quote) insisted for a third consecutive day on Thursday that its contract to mine the Las Cristinas gold deposit in Venezuela is safe despite overnight comments by President Hugo Chavez.

"There is absolutely no evidence, no advice, anything to the contrary," Crystallex chief executive Todd Bruce told Reuters when asked if there was any chance of the contract being revoked by Venezuela's government.

"Mining companies' existing contracts and concessions that are in compliance are going to be honored. There seems to be no issue over that at all," he said.

Chavez said late on Wednesday that his government was canceling all mining concessions and would not award any new deals to transnational companies as part of a wider sector restructuring.

Chavez Frias reiterates mine reform policy; wire services still get it wrong!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

David Coleman,

President Hugo Chavez Frias reiterated his reform policy late last night (Wednesday) saying that his government is canceling all mining concessions and will not enter into any new deals with transnational companies. Wire services, however, are continuing to paint a black picture, hyperventilating on a US State Department disinformation theme that Chavez is forcing a nationalization of a sector that was already nationalized way back in 1976 --- thirty years ago!

The move is part of a restructuring of Venezuela's mining and natural resource industries aimed at cleaning up the sector after more than a half-century of corrupt practices by previous administrations he describes as having been mismanaged by an Accion Democratica (AD)/Christian Socialist (COPEI) oligarchy.

The Chavez government has already begun a review of energy and mineral concessions and contracts signed before he came to office in February 1999 an an anti-corruption ticket after a landslide vote 1998. He says some deals "are robbing the Venezuelan people of its legitimate right to the wealth of its natural resources ... what we are doing is to recover national sovereignty over our own resources!"

The main thrust, moving forward is with a national mining corporation fashioned after the proven successes of the state oil corporation, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and under the tutelage of the heavy-industry conglomerate, the Venezuelan Guayana Corporation (CVG). Sources say that an as yet unspecified international corporation is to join forces with the CVG within the new mining corporation's infrastructure to act as a 'gatekeeper' for technical expertise and outside investment yet solidly under Venezuelan state control.

Off the record comments have been made by senior officials which point to Canadian miner Crystallex International Corporation (KRY) as being a leading contender in the infrastructure make-up of the new corporation, but no official statement has yet been made and Crystallex executives have not responded to enquiries related to the same.

China's Shandong Gold and US Hecla as well as Canadian Bolivar Gold are still in the picture with functioning mine operations in Venezuela either underway or already in production. Crystallex is already producing gold from other deposits but is awaiting final clearances on environmental permits before kick-starting work on the massive Las Cristinas gold fields for which is has an exclusive 40-year mine operating contract. Kansai Mining is said to have begun work on a diamonds deposit in southeastern Venezuela and remains unaffected by the President's reform policy statement.

Grave doubts are, however, being expressed over the uncertain future in Venezuela of Spokane (Washington)-based Gold Reserve which had been sitting on a Las Brisas concession for the greater part of the last decade with no significant production. It is known that Gold Reserve is now subject to review by the Basic Industries & Mining Ministry's special commission and it appears likely that they will be among the more than 100 concessionaires to have their concessions voided in the reform package.

President Hugo Chavez Frias is emphatic that all inactive gold and diamond mining concessions will be revoked and that his government will not issue new concessions.
Bolivar Gold's Bob Doyle has told that foreign mining interests must get used to the reality that the concept of 'concessions' is being removed from Venezuelan mining terminology. "Basically, there is no change when it applies to companies that are already operating successfully in Venezuela, like ourselves. It must be understood that the subsoil resources do belong to the Venezuelan people and that any arrangement to explore and exploit for mineral resources is conditioned on that fact."

In an earlier interview, Crystallex' vice president A. Richard Marshall had told that his organization is satisfied with progress being made by the Chavez government to clean up the country's mining sector where a huge proportion of the nation's has been mined illegally by cross-border 'garimpieros' and smuggled out by clandestine routes. It's a massive geographical area and law enforcement resources are limited, but the government is finally getting to grips with both illegalities and environmental issues.

Venezuela limitará firmas extranjeras

Viernes, 23 de septiembre de 2005

Líderes empresariales venezolanos expresaron su preocupación ante el anuncio hecho por el presidente Hugo Chávez de que dejará de otorgar concesiones a empresas mineras extranjeras.

Esta es la última de una serie de medidas que limitan el rol que juegan las firmas extranjeras en la economía venezolana y que el presidente Chávez desea transformar.

Este miércoles, el mandatario anunció que Venezuela está integrando una compañía minera estatal y a la vez aumentando su participación en otras industrias.

El gobierno espera que el control estatal del sector industrial contribuya en la reducción de la pobreza e incentive el crecimiento económico.

Pero hasta el momento, las empesas extranjeras mineras no han recibido notificación alguna de parte del gobierno.

Los críticos del gobierno venezolano insisten en que una mayor centralización detendrá la inversión y la creación de empleos.

El presidente de La Cámara Minera de Venezuela, Luis Rojas, afirmó que los inversionistas extranjeros se atemorizarán por el anuncio de Chávez. Soberanía económica

El presidente Chávez dijo el miércoles que el gobierno estaba cancelando todas las concesiones mineras y que no ofrecerá contratos adicionales a compañías foráneas.

En un discurso televisado, Chávez señaló que la medida "recuperará el poder nacional, la soberanía de manejar nuestros propios recursos."

"No daremos más concesiones a las transnacionales,", expresó.

El presidente Chávez también anunció planes de impulsar la producción de etanol para garantizar el suministro de gasolina.

Cerca de US$900 millones serán invertidos en el cultivo de más caña de azúcar y en la construcción de 15 plantas procesadoras durante los próximos cinco años. El programa podría crear unos 500.000 puestos de trabajo.

El gobierno venezolano está tomando medidas drásticas contra las empresas extranjeras, las cuales en su opinión, se han llevado las ganancias fuera del país y han contribuido a incrementar los altos niveles de pobreza.

Intereses extranjeros

Las firmas extranjeras tiene grandes intereses mineros en Venezuela.

La empresa estadounidense Hecla Mining es la principal productora de oro en Venezuela, mientras que la canadiense Crystallex tiene un lucrativo contrato para construir una mina de oro y una planta procesadora en Las Cristinas, uno de los depósitos de oro menos desarrollados del mundo.

Crystallex aseguró que los planes para crear una nueva compañía estatal de minería no afectarían el contrato, en el que piensa invertir US$265 millones.

"Nuestro contrato quedará intacto y será administrado por la nueva compañía minera", indicó su director ejecutivo, Todd Bruce.

Venezuela es el quinto productor mundial de petróleo y el alza del crudo ha ayudado a reactivar la economía de ese país este año.

Sin embargo, las cifras de desempleo se mantienen altas y el gobierno sostiene que los beneficios económicos derivados de la venta del petróleo y de los minerales, deben ser invertidos en programas que mejoren la educación básica y la salud pública.

Venezuela entregará minas a pequeños mineros

The Associated Press

September 29, 2005

Venezuela entregará la explotación de sus minas a pequeños mineros como parte de una revisión de todas las concesiones y contratos con empresas mineras, dijeron las autoridades el jueves.

El gobierno de Venezuela está revisando todas las concesiones y contratos mineros y asegura que cancelará los acuerdos con las empresas que mantengan las minas inactivas o que no cumplan con las leyes.

Varias empresas extranjeras enfrentan la revisión, incluyendo la estadounidense Hecla Mining, la china Shandong Gold-Mining y las canadienses Crystallex y Gold Reserve.

El viceministro de Minería, Juangustavo Ovalles, afirmó en un comunicado que las áreas que sean rescindidas a las corporaciones multinacionales serán reasignadas a "pequeños mineros" y que los contratos operativos que se mantengan inactivos serán revocados.

Según las autoridades, Venezuela revisará las 482 concesiones y los 509 contratos que ha firmado a través del conglomerado minero Corporación Venezolana de Guayana.

Crystallex asegura que espera por un permiso ambiental para comenzar la explotación de mina de oro Las Cristinas, uno de los depósitos más grandes del mundo.

El presidente Hugo Chávez anunció que su gobierno había decidido cancelar todas las licencias de minería y dejaría de emitir nuevas a compañías extranjeras, acusándolas de obtener concesiones para explotar minas y no operarlas.


Caracas, 22 de septiembre de 2005

La Cámara Minera de Venezuela (CAMIVEN), institución que representa a las principales empresas mineras públicas y privadas, nacionales y extranjeras, con operaciones e inversiones en Venezuela, ante los recientes pronunciamientos sobre los planes del Ejecutivo con respecto a la minería de oro y diamantes en la región Guayana, expresa:

CAMIVEN coincide con el Ejecutivo Nacional en la necesidad de revisar los derechos mineros otorgados en Guayana, especialmente aquellos que se encuentran inactivos o abandonados. Las empresas miembros de CAMIVEN se encuentran activas y en diferentes etapas de desarrollo de sus derechos mineros. Nuestros mineros cumplen con sus obligaciones legales, ambientales y tributarias, adicionalmente, aplican criterios y normas nacionales e internacionales de sostenibilidad ambiental y de inclusión social en sus operaciones y actividades. Los resultados positivos de la gestión social y ambiental de las empresas mineras fueron presentados en las VIII Jornadas de Minería, celebradas el pasado 15 de septiembre en la ciudad de Caracas.

Ciertamente, un número significativo de áreas de derechos mineros en Guayana se encuentran inactivas; muchas por no contar con autorizaciones ambientales, algunas mantenidas por empresas del Estado, otras por encontrarse en áreas de Reserva y otras màs por simple abandono. Dichas áreas deben renovarse, definirse su uso y ser sometidas a un régimen jurídico y operativo claro, a efectos de su desarrollo.

CAMIVEN apoya la creación de una empresa estatal de minería como motor de desarrollo del sector para Guayana, que provea de asistencia tecnológica, financiera y ambiental a la pequeña minería, que construya y opere la infraestructura de procesamiento del mineral producido por dicho sector, asegurando el pago de tributos, la mitigación y recuperación ambiental y el cumplimiento de las normativas aplicables.

La pequeña minería de la región se ha visto beneficiada con la asignación de un importante número de áreas que suman decenas de miles de hectáreas, en las cuales hace falta el apoyo del estado y de la empresa privada, a fin de consolidar esas explotaciones con inversión, tecnología y medidas de mitigación del impacto ambiental. La idea sería lograr que esa pequeña minería se industrialice a pequeña escala y que su mantenimiento en el tiempo se base en explotaciones más racionales y con mejores tecnologías de recuperación, en lugar de continuar exigiendo al gobierno más áreas para trabajar a fin de reemplazar los yacimientos agotados prematuramente.

La industria privada -formal e integral- de la minería de oro y diamante en Guayana, afiliada a CAMIVEN, emplea actualmente más de 3.000 personas de manera directa y varias veces esa cifra de manera indirecta. Ella, junto con màs de 800 personas que emplea directamente el sector estatal, constituye la primera industria y el primer empleador formal fuera de ciudad Guayana, beneficiando a màs de 50.000 personas al sur del estado Bolívar.

CAMIVEN considera que la nueva política del Ejecutivo hacia el sector, podrá ser beneficiosa para Guayana y su gente, así como para el resto del país. Dicha política debería sostenerse sobre la convergencia natural de la inversión pública y privada, con respeto a los derechos existentes y con medidas de promoción e incentivo a la inversión, a la transferencia tecnológica y a la creación de aplicaciones aguas abajo de los productos minerales; todo ello con criterios de responsabilidad social y sostenibilidad ambiental. CAMIVEN y sus empresas miembros están dispuestas a asumir tal compromiso conjuntamente con el gobierno y el resto de los factores de producción.

Indígenas se enfrentan a mineros autorizados por Mibam: responsabilizan al ministro Álvarez por decretar la "muerte" de sus asentamientos

Luis Antonio Anselmi P.,

Miércoles, 21 septiembre 2005

Los representantes indígenas esperan que las autoridades rectifiquen la decisiónUn grupo de 19 capitanes de comunidades indígenas del sur del estado Bolívar rechazó la resolución del Ministerio de Industrias Básicas y Minería que autoriza la explotación minera en sus territorios. Temen que los enfrentamientos verbales con los "invasores" puedan agravarse, pues aseguran que defenderán sus derechos "como sea necesario".

Capitanes de las 19 comunidades indígenas del sector Cuyuní, miembros de la Federación de Indígenas del estado Bolívar, rechazaron rotundamente la resolución emanada del Ministerio de Industrias Básicas y Minería (Mibam), que autoriza la práctica de la pequeña minería en diversas áreas del municipio Sifontes, asegurando que con la decisión el ministro Álvarez está decretando la muerte de estas poblaciones.

José Calderón, secretario general del sector Cuyuní, explicó que el pasado 13 de septiembre, Álvarez anunció públicamente que el Mibam permitiría el desarrollo de la pequeña minería en la zona, situación que originó amenazas de invasión que aseguran ponen en riesgo la supervivencia de sus hermanos indígenas.

"Esto afecta a la comunidad de Apanau, a la altura del kilómetro 38 de la carretera que lleva a la Gran Sabana. Los mineros se han alborotado y nosotros no vamos a permitir que ingresen. Hasta los momentos los enfrentamientos han sido verbales, y queremos evitar que sean más graves porque vamos a defender esto como sea necesario".

Por su parte, el concejal del municipio Sifontes, Juan González, acompañado por Luis Pizarro y Luis Rangel, lamentó que nuevamente desde instancias gubernamentales se tomen decisiones que afectan la estabilidad de los indígenas, sin consultarles sobre aspectos que violentan sus derechos constitucionalmente reconocidos.

"El estado o cualquier organización que quiera trabajar en esa área tiene que tener el consentimiento de las comunidades. Nosotros sabemos que los mineros también tienen derechos, pero quieren entrar a la fuerza y dicen que son como 500 que van a invadir la zona. Queremos evitar un enfrentamiento, pero vamos a defender esto a como dé lugar".

Este martes enviaron al titular del Mibam un comunicado firmado por los representantes legales de las 19 comunidades indígenas del sector habitado por etnias Pemón, Akawaio, Kariña y Arawako, en el cual rechazan la medida y le exigen su presencia en el lugar para que explique los motivos de su decreto y la forma en que cree que tal actividad se puede desarrollar sin afectar negativamente a los pobladores.

Para ellos, a pesar de haber ratificado sus derechos en la Constitución de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela, la situación no ha mejorado mucho por cuanto siguen siendo discriminados al momento de tomar decisiones de relevancia.

"Estamos exigiendo el respeto de los derechos de las comunidades indígenas, y si no tenemos una respuesta a la brevedad y estos hermanos mineros invaden a la fuerza, vamos a defender las tierras con fuerza".

Crystallex plays down jitters over Venezuelan gold venture

By PATRICK MARKEY, Reuters News Agency

Monday, October 3, 2005

LAS CRISTINAS, VENEZUELA -- A cluster of low, white buildings, bulldozed roads and an airstrip carved out of the jungle mark the site where Crystallex International Corp. plans to soon start mining at Las Cristinas, Venezuela's largest gold deposit.

Las project CristanasToronto-based Crystallex says it's ready to begin work once the Venezuelan government clears its environmental permit. It brushes off recent political clamour over mining deals that left investors jittery about Las Cristinas, where it has held an operating contract since 2002. "We're just waiting for the green light to go ahead," Crystallex general manager Guillermo Adrian said outside the site in the mineral-rich state of Bolivar in southern Venezuela. "We have completed all the technical aspects."

Las Cristinas and other deals are under scrutiny after Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government vowed last month to revoke inactive gold and diamond deals during a study of the sector that included an "exhaustive review" of Crystallex's contract.

Mr. Chavez, a populist former army officer who promises to fight poverty, has launched a broad revision of the energy and mining industries as he seeks to bolster state control over the natural resources of the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

Authorities have not named companies they believe are inactive, but their comments have been unclear about the impact on current contracts. They say they plan to hand idled mines to small-scale miners, many of whom work in unlicensed quarries.

Las Cristinas recently became a lightning rod during protests by hundreds of poor, unlicensed miners who demand more government backing, jobs and access to the area covered by Crystallex's contract.

The situation was complicated by a government campaign to remove small-scale gold miners from the River Caroni, an area that generates most of Venezuela's hydro-electric power.

Crystallex shares slipped after Mr. Chavez's comments, as markets were already wary about delays in the government approval of the company's environmental permit, the vital last step before proper mining. The company says its contract is safe, and that it is confident the environmental permit will soon be approved.

But the government's recent statements mean more than stock prices and investments to illegal miners like Leonel Avilez, who work inside the Las Cristinas camp with gasoline generators and water jets to salvage a few slivers of gold. "We just want them to let us work where there is gold," Mr. Avilez said.

In deforested holes blasted by water jets, about 400 unlicensed miners work inside Las Cristinas, which has estimated gold reserves of about 12.7 million ounces.

Hundreds more work small mines just outside the camp, where they criticize National Guard troops for taking away the fuel needed for generators and blocking access to Las Cristinas. Some want jobs with Crystallex once it starts production, as they admit gold yield is slim for small-scale miners. Others demand authorities give them legal access to parts of Las Cristinas where they believe gold is easier to mine. But most feel abandoned by the government, which they say has been slow to live up to promises to hand out technical assistance and legal permits.

Some industry representatives wonder if Mr. Chavez wants to take mining in the same direction as the state oil sector, where he has ordered foreign companies to switch from operating contracts to joint ventures giving the state a controlling stake in projects. Government officials plan a state gold and mining company to start work in early 2006, and say they will list the inactive mines at the end of this year.

Crystallex plans to start mining Las Cristinas in 2006, with an initial production of 300,000 ounces a year, which would make it the country's largest gold miner.

The company points to the mine construction materials it has waiting for shipment from Houston, the service contracts it has already signed, and its investment of more than $2-million (U.S.) in social projects such as housing, roads, school materials and medical equipment for local residents.

Crystallex sin preocupación por Las Cristinas


October 3, 2005

LAS CRISTINAS, VENEZUELA -- Un conjunto de edificaciones blancas, caminos abiertos por tractores y una pista de aterrizaje enclavada en la jungla venezolana, marcan el sitio donde la canadiense Crystallex International planea operar muy pronto Las Cristinas, el mayor yacimiento aurífero del país.

La minera canadiense dice que está lista para empezar a operar cuando el Gobierno le dé un permiso ambiental, minimizando recientes cuestionamientos políticos sobre el sector minero, que inquietaron a los inversionistas sobre la suerte de Las Cristinas, donde Crystallex mantiene un contrato de operación desde 2002.

"Sólo estamos a la espera de luz verde para avanzar", dijo el gerente general de Crystallex, Guillermo Adrián, en las afueras del lugar ubicado en el sureño estado Bolívar. "Hemos terminado todos los aspectos técnicos", agregó.

Las Cristinas y otros proyectos están bajo escrutinio luego de que el gobierno del presidente Hugo Chávez prometió el mes pasado revocar contratos y concesiones inactivas de oro y diamante durante un estudio del sector, que incluye una "revisión exhaustiva" del contrato de Crystallex.

Chávez está adelantando una revisión general de los contratos mineros y petroleros para reforzar el control estatal sobre los recursos naturales del quinto exportador mundial de crudo.

Las autoridades no han dicho qué firmas consideran inactivas, pero sus comentarios tampoco han sido claros sobre el impacto en los contratos actuales.

Sostienen que darán las minas inactivas a pequeños mineros, muchos de los cuales están trabajando de forma ilegal.

Pero Las Cristinas recientemente se convirtió en foco de atención por confusas protestas de cientos de mineros pobres y sin licencias, que exigen más respaldo del Gobierno y acceso al área que cubre el contrato de Crystallex.

La situación se ha complicado con una campaña del Gobierno para sacar a los pequeños mineros del río Caroní, el cauce que genera la mayor parte de la energía hidroeléctrica del país.

Las acciones de Crystallex cayeron tras los comentarios de Chávez y los mercados estaban preocupados por la demora del Gobierno en otorgar el permiso ambiental, lo que es el último paso para que la firma comience a operar el yacimiento.

La empresa dice que su contrato está seguro y confía en que muy pronto le sea aprobado el permiso.

Pero los recientes anuncios del Gobierno significan más que los precios de las acciones y las inversiones para los mineros ilegales como Leonel Avilez, que trabaja dentro del área de Las Cristinas con generadores de gasolina y chorros de agua a presión para lograr unas pocas astillas de fino oro.

"Nosotros sólo queremos que nos dejen trabajar donde está el oro", dijo Avilez mientras se sentaba en una choza de palos de madera y forros de plástico con sus pies y manos embarradas de blancuzco barro seco procedente de la jornada laboral.

Empresa estatal

En grandes agujeros rojos y ocres deforestados por chorros de agua a presión, cerca de 400 mineros trabajan sin licencia dentro de Las Cristinas, que tiene reservas estimadas de 12,7 millones de onzas.

Otros cientos más trabajan pequeñas minas justo en las afueras del campo, desde donde critican a los efectivos de la Guardia Nacional por llevarse el combustible que ellos necesitan para los generadores y bloquear el acceso a la concesión.

Algunos quieren trabajar con Crystallex una vez que la minera inicie la producción porque entienden que el rendimiento que deja del oro es poco cuando es extraído por pequeños mineros; otros exigen a las autoridades acceso legal a zonas de la concesión Las Cristinas, donde creen que es más fácil extraer oro.

La mayoría, sin embargo, se sienten abandonados por el Gobierno, porque afirman que no han recibido asistencia técnica o permisos para operar.

Algunos representantes de la industria se preguntan ahora si Chávez quiere llevar al sector minero por el mismo camino de la estatizada industria petrolera.

Chávez ordenó este año a firmas foráneas y locales en 32 convenios operativos del sector petrolero convertirse en asociaciones mixtas, donde el Estado tendrá una participación mayoritaria. Además, aumentó regalías e impuestos a otros proyectos petroleros.

Las autoridades están creando una empresa estatal de oro y diamantes que comenzaría a operar en 2006 y para finales de este año prevén tener la lista de las minas inactivas.

Crystallex planea comenzar en Las Cristinas en el 2006 con una producción inicial de 300.000 onzas anuales, que la convertiría en el más grande productor minero del país.

La compañía destaca los materiales de construcción para la mina, que están a la espera de embarcar desde Houston, Estados Unidos, los contratos de servicio que ya firmó y los más de 2,0 millones de dólares que invirtió en proyectos sociales para viviendas, vías y materiales para escuelas y equipos médicos para residentes locales.

Además de Crystallex, otras grandes compañías mineras que operan en Venezuela son la también canadiense Bolívar Gold, la estadounidense Hecla Mining Co. y la china Shandong Gold-Mining Co. Ltd.

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