Caracas, November 30, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro signed 39 permits Monday granting local communities in Bolivar state access to the Orinoco Mining Arc.
Earlier this year, Maduro signed an executive order opening up 112,000 square-kilometers of the country’s southeastern Amazonian region– 12 percent of national territory– to open-pit mining by national and transnational firms.
While the move has been sharply criticized by social movements and former cabinet members over potential social and ecological repercussions, Maduro has defended the Mining Arc as a necessary step to diversify the country’s heavily oil-dependent economy and crack down on endemic illegal gold mining.
Under the new permits, miners from the communities of Nacupay and la Ramona in El Callao will be authorized to work in the region’s extensive gold mines on the condition that they refrain from using mercury, which has devastating ecological impacts.
“I just signed 39 work permits for the Nacupay community, for 39 mining brigades and the creation of alliances between small miners and the [state gold mining company] MINERVEN, without using mercury in the facilities,” Maduro stated.
In August, the Venezuelan government signed US $4.5 billion in deals with national and transnational mining firms, including a 27-year contract with the Canadian company Gold Reserve, which was expelled from the country by late President Hugo Chávez in 2009.
Despite wide-ranging transnational participation, Maduro has pledged that the Venezuelan state will retain a 55 percent stake in all projects, while 60 percent of revenues form the projects will reportedly be invested in Venezuela’s social programs.
On Monday, the head of state indicated that part of the gold extracted from the Mining Arc will go towards bolstering the nation’s shrinking international reserves, which have dipped to US $10.9 billion amid a series of stiff bond payments.
Venezuela is home to the 16th largest gold reserves on the planet, in addition to ample reserves of iron, diamonds, uranium, and highly strategic coltan.
The exploration phase of the Orinoco Mining Arc began this past September.