Something is sickening the people of Tiara and their cropsPublished by MAC on 2005-07-03
Something is sickening the people of Tiara and their crops
Sunday July 3, 2005
Oscar Medina, El Universal
Caracas, Venezuela - Almost from the very beginning the construction of the plant where multinational mining company Anglo-American (together with a firm called Grupo Mezerhane) has invested some U$500 million (of which $210 million were contributed by the World Bank), complaints began to arrive from the communities of Tiara, in the Venezuelan state of Aragua.
The company began operations in December 2000 in Loma de Hierro (under the name Loma de Níquel), the zone which the Ministery of Energy and Mining awarded a 30 year concession for the mining of nickel, that covers the townships of Guicaipuro de Miranda and Santos Michelena de Aragua. On March 23 2001, president Hugo Chávez himself officially inaugurated the plant.
Loma de Níquel projects to extract more than 1.2 million tons of mineral, from which they will obtain some 17,000 tons of iron nickel, almost all of which is exported. This is the full limit of the capacity estimated in 1998. An average annual income was projected to be between 120 and 150 million dollars. None of this flourishing income seems to have arrived in Tiara. And although Anglo American promised a respectable list of social actions, in town, they say another thing.
Near the end of 2003 the press department of the National Assembly gathered complaints about pollution, and announced the opening of a parliamentary investigation which now appears to be collecting dust.
The town of Tiara itself appears to be, in the words of an aged local, "forsaken by God." Around six thousand persons inhabit this rough town with its contaminated drinking water and poor infrastructure, which for some years now has been impacted by the iron nickle mining operations just a few kilometers away. And no matter how the company defends itself with arguments and scientific reports, there is something here that is sickening the people and killing their crops.
"They say that everything is normal, but here the situation is getting worse with respect to the illnesses and agricultural problems," complains John Mohammed, president of the Neighbor Commission. César Suárez, of the Ribas Ecological Foundation, one of the most consistant complaintants, says that the emissions of nickel carbonates are reaching the town of Colonia Tovar and already are affecting crops in that zone, especially the tamarillo and peaches.
They don't hesistate to state that the systems that are supposed to clean plant emissions are manipulated at will by the company, with whom local government officials enjoy a "cozy" and suspect relationship, and that the health statistics compiled by the local health officials will never uncover the truthful information -- because it is the mining company that pays for these reports.
"Before the mining began, we would have good flower harvests, we would cut 4,000 dozen flowers monthly. Just as in the year the mining began we began to have problems in the plants, my children also began to develop respiratory problems, they became asthmatic, their lungs closed up. A doctor told me `you need to get those kids out of here,' but to where? how?" says Efraín Schmitt. He had decided to move to Tiara seven years ago, buying a small piece of land to cultivate flowers. He also has something that is affecting his skin: he shows his forarms covered with red bumps.
Juan Flores tends various crops around Tiarita. He is losing all his crops. "First there's a spot, and the leaves turn brown. Then the same happens to the fruit, and it goes on until the whole plant dries up," he explains.
Edmunda Somoza Delgado is 59 years old and is "a native of here." In May, they finally gave her a concrete diagnosis for her constant skin problems: "contact dermatitis due to allergic reaction of nickel salts." "I haved lived all my life here and never had this. This began two years ago, I developed blisters on my legs, my arms turned red and scaly, and itched terribly, especially at night."