Venezuela Begins Controversial Mega Mining Project

The Venezuelan government began Wednesday the first phase of a controversial mining project that activists say could devastate vast swathes of the country’s wilderness.
By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
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The Orinoco Mining Arc project has been hailed by the Venezuelan government as a major source of foreign investment, though critics say it could become an environmental disaster. (VTV/Archive)
The Orinoco Mining Arc project has been hailed by the Venezuelan government as a major source of foreign investment, though critics say it could become an environmental disaster. (VTV/Archive)

Puebla, Mexico, September 9, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The Venezuelan government began Wednesday the first phase of a controversial mining project that activists say could devastate vast swathes of the country’s wilderness.

Speaking to state broadcaster VTV, ecological mining minister Roberto Mirabal said exploration had begun in the Orinoco Mining Arc, a huge chunk of south west Venezuela suspected of holding large reserves of copper and gold.

“We have already begun the exploration stage. Next, we’ll proceed to the certification stage,” Mirabal told VTV.

Mirabal said the exploration process will be carried out in adherence with Venezuelan environmental regulations, and was being closely monitored by experts.

The Orinoco Mining Arc has become a key pillar of President Nicolas Maduro’s efforts to attract foreign investment in Venezuela. In August, Maduro signed a series of agreements with both domestic and transnational mining corporations seeking to exploit the mineral rich region. According to state media, the deals were worth US$4.5 billion. In one of the larger agreements, Canadian mining firm Gold Reserve scored a 27 year joint contract with the Venezuelan state. Under the agreement, the Venezuelan government is entitled to 55 percent of all profits from the venture, plus taxes and royalties.

Gold Reserve was previously active in Venezuela until 2009, when Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez suspended the company’s activities at the Las Brisas concession over environmental concerns.

Although the Maduro administration has maintained mining projects in the Orinoco Arc will have a minimum environmental impact, activists aren’t convinced.

In May, a coalition of indigenous Ye’Kwana and Sanema communities issued a statement condemning the new mining projects, declaring the mining arc a “violation of our legitimate right to health, our own safeguarded territory and quality of life”.

“The Ye'kwana and Sanema cultures depend on forests, streams and other ecosystems as well as natural resources along the Caura River Basin in order to exist,” they said.

The Orinoco Mining Arc covers nearly 12 percent of Venezuela’s territory, and will allow massive open pit mines across vast areas of wilderness.