Thirst for Illegal Treasure. Gold Mining In Venezuela - Environmental Disaster.

in steemstem •  4 months ago

So let's assume we found the lost city of El Dorado, at least the one marked on the map of Bolivar State. Here is the next part of the story about the golden region of Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Gran Sabana is one of the most ancient places on Earth and one of the last wild areas. Set in a ​world rich in natural wonders and resources, this cultural and ecological heritage is on the edge of being irreversibly transformed or destroyed. One of the oldest geological formations on the continent, south of Venezuela’s Orinoco River in the Guiana Highlands, is a strategic development zone.

When the government took possession of the gold mines and two foreign companies, Crystallex and Gold Reserve assets were seized, the exploitation and production fell drastically. As a part of the later settlement, to mine in Brisas and Las Cristinas gold mines, another joint venture was formed.

Over time all foreign mining investors have quickly become stuck in a cycle of political or legal battles and every deal to obtain access to these neighbouring sites led ultimately to a failure.

Visualised by Hugo Chavez in 2011 a huge mining project to extract and exploit this rich in gold area was resumed by his successor Nicolas Maduro. The president approved the Mining Development Plan and the Orinoco Mining Arc was opened for the exploitation, fully underway in 2016. The ecosystem of global interest covers 12 percent of the national territory and is part of the Amazon River basin.

The idea of this strategic development zone was to reduce illegal mining by giving work to Venezuelan artisanal miners and enter partnerships with scores of national and transnational firms while maintaining the national sovereignty of the area.

Unfortunately, much of the mining lacked state regulation. The corruption and pervasive confusion have left Venezuela’s gold mining industry in complete chaos. The small-scale mining has remained in the hands of organized crime groups usually under the supervision of Venezuela’s army. Throughout the state prison mafias commanded by “pranes” control the mines and the corrupted army guards guide the entrance to the deposits by collecting bribes.

There are estimated 100,000 small-scale miners working at illegal gold mines, these men seek their fortunes with quite archaic techniques such the use of tin pans, dynamite and wooden sluices. In towns in the south of the Bolivar state, gold is used as currency.

For Sale - 55 Grams, Photo: @highonthehog

Large scale mines are owned by companies who will stay at the mining site until all of the mineral deposits in that area have been acquired. These companies may employ thousands of workers from the community. Large machinery is used to dig gold from the soil and mercury is used to amalgamate the gold deposits.
Small-scale mining consists of 4 to 5 men who travel around looking for gold. Land and River dredging are the two most popular methods used by small-scale miners.
Land dredging is done by digging a hole into the soil and then using a high-pressure water source to expose the gold. This water runs off into different locations usually making the perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying malaria.
River dredging consists of sucking up the ground beneath the river into pipes, which then filter out the gold particles. The displaced ground is then released into different areas of the river.
Gold Mining And Its Effects On The Amazon And Its Inhabitants

Huge mining zone of Orinoco Arch scheme allows for open-pit mining in territories renowned for its indigenous communities and promotes forms of resource extraction that severely damages the environment.

Pollution gets worse in the area as small-scale artisanal miners use mercury- bio-accumulative heavy metal, to extract the gold from the sediment. Poorly regulated gold mining, hydraulic ground erosion and deforestation left a tenth of the area devastated, and the sediments of the most important river systems contaminated.

On the way, Photo: @highonthehog

Without the clear rules for investors, there is a huge risk in opening the area for the multinational mining corporations, which would cause further environmental destruction through the use of large-scale open pit cyanide heap leach technology to extract the deep underground reserves and setting up large tailings dams containing water contaminated with cyanide.

In the developed world mercury was replaced by alternative methods or products, here it is still used to purify gold from ore in a process called amalgamation.

Gold amalgamation is one of the oldest gold extraction methods. Mercury added to gold and silver ores creates an amalgam by contact with such metals. An amalgam is an extremely malleable metallic state that is not an alloy and the dissolved metals can be separated from the mercury by evaporating the amalgam.
Myths And Realities In Artisanal Gold Mining Mercury Contamination

With a spare petrol, Photo: @highonthehog

Venezuela is a country in crisis, left with a mountain of debt with no means of repayment. Entangled in the corruption and misdirection, production from the largest gold deposit in the country has declined and its mining initiative continues to generate controversy. Its under-tapped potential is the only thing helping the country pay its bills right now.

Previous part here: The Myth Or Reality? El Dorado And The Bloody Grab for Gold in Venezuela


Photos: @highonthehog
Images: sources linked below

  • Gustavo Angeloci Santos, Myths And Realities In Artisanal Gold Mining Mercury Contamination, The University Of British Columbia (Vancouver), 2013
  • Juan Friede, Geographical Ideas And The Conquest Of Venezuela, The Americas, Vol. 16, No. 2 Pp. 145-159, Cambridge University Press, 1959
  • U.S. Geological Survey And Corporacion Venezolana De Guayana, Tecnica Minera, C.A., Geology And Mineral Resource Assessment Of The Venezuelan Guayana Shield United States Government Printing Office, Washington, 1993

  • Helmut Waszkis, Mining in the Americas: Stories and History, Woodhead Publishing Limited, 1993

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Thank you!

it is very interesting story…

I find it very interesting knowing the current situation with respect to gold mining in your country. Quite unfortunate that all over the world, corruption is almost becoming a global plague. I thing the world middle class has to coordinate response to deal with this criminal wherever they may be once and for all.

Yours is so similar to what obtains here. Damn.


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What is happening in Wenezuela probably temporarily is not equal to whats happening in any other civilised country. There is a big fuckup in every sector. It's a pity to look at it, I do not know if something will change in the near future, unfortunately.


American sanction is part of the issue. America should leave that country alone

I find it very interesting knowing the current situation with respect to gold mining in your country. Quite unfortunate that all over the world, corruption is almost becoming a global plague. I thing the world middle class has to coordinate response to deal with this criminal wherever they may be once and for all.

Yours is so similar to what obtains here. Damn.


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Good job very good I am from Venezuela the wonders offered by the country are beautiful a good trip, thank you for showing us your excellent work greetings and my respects my support with my vote.


Thank you, best regards and wishes for perseverance, strength and positivism in such a difficult situation.

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Thank you very much for appreciating my post, as always working on articles is a great trip back in time and I am glad that I can infect others with my madness :)

@highonthehog is a great post. But being a venezuelan is just too sad to read all the chaos and disaster happening in my country. I know that this chaotic place is our new country...


Thank you, before all, it is a beautiful and unique country. I'm still awe-inspired​ with its omnipresent wealth.. well let's​ try not to think too much about the F$%&&§ ups there, not much can be done now.

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Muchas Graciassss :)

It is really petty for Venezuela. The poeple don't deserve what's going on in their country. Nice post, @highonthehog. You have my resteem and upvote on Polish version of the post.


Thank you @zorank. All the best.

This is so frustrating that there is no efficient intervention to stop this. Not only is it ecologically damaging but it is also putting the lives of those workers in huge risk.

A lot of miners died in mining accidents in my home country (Turkey) because of the harsh working conditions.

Thanks for sharing this, greetings from Cape Town :)


So this is one of the many aspects in this country that are completely in chaos and mismanagement. As I wrote this post I, it struck me that basically everything containing organic particles in this area is contaminated to a greater or lesser extent. I wonder just how much of this terrible chemicals I have acquired by eating fish and other stuff from there. Ewwwwwww :P

YAY to Cape Town, planning to visit in December , LOVE IT !

Amazing post @highonthehog I 'm following you ! :3


Thank you. Ah it was you all the time, I could swear I​ heard footsteps behind​ me ;)


yeah and I am grabbing ur backpack too! ;)