The national strategic development zone better known as the Arco Minero del Orinoco (AMO) was created by the dictatorial government of Venezuela presided by Nicolás Maduro, in 2016, making use of a dubious “enabling law”, without the approval of the National Assembly, the only legitimate power for that time in the country.
For its part SOS Orinoco, Provide, Human Right Watchthe Venezuelan Violence Observatoryamong other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have denounced in various reports not only the presence in the area of Colombian guerrilla groups affiliated with the regime, such as the ELN and FARC dissidents, among other mega-criminal gangs, but also the presence in the area of the ELN and FARC dissidents, among other mega-criminal gangs. deforestation of an area equivalent to the size of Trinidad and Tobago or 677,000 soccer fields.
Characteristics of the Orinoco Mining Arc (official version)
According to presidential decree number 2248 officialized in gazette 40 855, the area was created in order to diversify the country’s income from mineral extraction. This decree was repealed by the National Assembly after it was deemed to be violation of Articles 150 and 187-9 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Moreover, in the unanimous opinion of this legitimately elected Assembly, the decree also violates the articles referring to environmental rights (127, 128, 129, 130, 304, 327, and the constitutional preamble).
The area is located in the north of Bolívar State and covers an area of 111,843 km2 , corresponding to 12% of Venezuelan territory. This size compares to smaller countries such as Switzerland, Belgium, Panama or Costa Rica.
4 main sectors
There are six zones in the area under the special administration regime and it is divided into four large areas.
- Area 1 is located in the westernmost zone and extends to the Cuchivero River, where minerals such as coltan, diamonds, bauxite and rare earths are found.
- Area 2 is located between the Cuchivero and Aro rivers, where minerals such as gold and iron are found.
- Area 3 is located between the Aro River and the border on the eastern side of the Arco Minero territory and contains iron and gold.
- Area 4 is the extension of the Arco Minero through the Imataca area and in this fraction copper, bauxite, kaolin, dolomite and gold are located.
The AMO is made up of five dimensions.
- knowledge and technology,
- social policy and human rights,
- security, citizenship
- and productive economy.
According to official information The idea of creating the Mining Arc is based on requests from the inhabitants of the areas where the development is located, where there is a predominance of indigenous ethnic groups that have requested that mining activities be regulated, and by miners seeking to regularize their situation. (1 y 1.1)
Environmental impact of the AMO
Mining is an environmentally invasive activity, so it cannot be considered environmentally friendly. This premise is even admitted by the Venezuelan government itself, which seeks to ensure that the exploitation carried out in the AMO is as responsible as possible. This commitment includes respect for the lives of the people who inhabit the territory and the natural environment, which is made up of a unique diversity on the planet.
A report presented by Provea (2), a human rights NGO, has listed a series of damages to the environment and to the health of the inhabitants, both native to the area and from other regions.
In terms of environmental damage, the fragmentation of ecosystems stands out, mostly integrated in forests and jungles, which are home to unique or endemic species of flora and fauna, many of which are already in danger of extinction.
The areas that are cut down will affect the forests that remain, the reduction of trees causes droughts and higher winds that are unfavorable to smaller vegetation. In terms of fauna , this region contains an enormous biodiversity; more than half of the Venezuelan species live in this region.
Emblematic species such as the Commerson’s dolphin, the Orinoco caiman, the manatee and the Arrau turtle would be even more threatened than they are today. This region is known as the oldest region on Earth with a history of 4 billion years of evolution that can be destroyed in a few months of mining.
In terms of human health, the damage caused by malaria, which is transmitted by a mosquito that proliferates in mine shafts, is well known in mining areas. All types of mineral extraction produce pollution at all levels; blasting results in an atmospheric overload of particles that affect the respiratory and organic systems in general.
Undoubtedly the greatest harm lies in the use of harmful chemicals such as mercury and cyanide, the latter is used to dissolve gold at a rate of 350 mg per liter of water and mercury is used to separate gold from tailings and sediments. It is then discharged into rivers or burned, becoming a volatile pollutant.
Crime, violence and corruption in the Orinoco Mining Belt
Illegal mining activities have been taking place in the mining area in the south of the country for decades, but have intensified since 2006, leading to the emergence of a number of clandestine organizations vying for control of illegal mining.
The so-called “Sindicatos” are groups outside the law that, under the modality of prison hierarchies, dominate all phases of mining exploitation. They are responsible for collecting a percentage of at least 50% of the profits from the minerals extracted.
These groups have received very little attention from the state, so it is inferred that they have been able to infiltrate both civilian and military officials in charge of enforcing the rule of law in mining areas through bribes.
The NGO SOS Orinoco offered a report in March 2022 called “Presence, activity and influence of organized armed groups on mining activity south of the Orinoco River“(3), detailing the illegal activities of armed groups operating in the AMO, including FARC dissidents, ELN and mega-criminal gangs.
These illegal groups are in charge of controlling illegal mining in this extraction zone and manage all illicit businesses, including smuggling of mining production, drug trafficking, extortion, human trafficking, kidnappings and human rights violations.
The international organization Human Right Watch has received reports of violent acts such as torture, disappearances and deaths caused by these groups as a result of their regime of terror where they impose these punishments on those who do not obey their rules.
The Venezuelan Violence Observatory prepared a report in which they have records that give the state of Bolivar as the third most violent in the country in 2021 by registering 56.8 murders per 100,000 inhabitants.
This report indicates that between the years 2012 and 2020 there have been 38 massacres in mining areas which includes 77 missing persons. In addition to the link between irregular groups and gangs, many of these crimes are attributed to the actions of security forces. Between 2019 and 2020 alone, 426 cases of extrajudicial executions occurred in the area, a figure that leaves far behind the reports of massacres for ransom.
This organization concludes in its report that the Venezuelan government’s response to the actions of the various illegal groups has been the excessive use of force and extrajudicial executions; in the Roscio municipality of Bolivar state alone, police and military operations resulted in five times more casualties than those of the criminals themselves.
For its part, SOS Orinoco attributes the power of these groups to their sympathy with the Venezuelan government through the armed forces, the Bolivar governor’s office and the mayor’s offices. According to Transparencia Venezuela, this is estimated to be equivalent to 70% of the gold that is illegally extracted and traded. (4)
Companies linked to AMO
Venezuelan state-owned Corporación Venezolana de Guayana MinervenThe AMO has been in charge of mining exploitation, but has been overtaken by irregular activities. With the creation of the AMO, the entry of other companies linked to the government, better known as “Empresas de maletín” and large multinationals such as Gold Reserve and Barrick Gold, which have been involved in environmental crimes, human rights violations and bribery of state officials, is expected. (5)
The current situation of the AMO is extremely worrisome; the expansion of mining rent has brought a series of damages ranging from environmental to public health. The state has allowed these irregular activities through a supra-constitutional legal mechanism that violates the basic rights of the population and the environment.
Meanwhile, forests continue to be deforested daily, mercury is dumped into rivers and the indigenous peoples, who are the most vulnerable inhabitants of the region, continue to be abused.
SOS Orinoco Report on deforestation and changes in vegetation cover within the Orinoco Mining Arc.
This report by the independent research group SOS Orinoco analyzed the rate of deforestation in the Arco Minero area over the last 20 years and its relationship with mining activities since the implementation of the AMO.
Between 2000 and 2020 alone, the amount of forests, jungles and savannahs deforested reached 520,900 hectares , equivalent to the surface area of 677,000 soccer fields. By the year 2020, the amount of forest was equivalent to 56.6% of the entire territory of the AMO.
All the destruction increased since the implementation of mining activities that came into effect in 2015 which evidences the failure in environmental matters in the area by the Venezuelan government.
Mining activity has resulted in the removal of all vegetation cover, including soil removal and the consequent impact on riverbeds. The loss of forests is equivalent to the emission of 162 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Between 2015 and 2022, the increase in mining activity in the territory was 7,722 hectares. The average deforestation rate during this period was 46,024 hectares per year. In 2015, the decree that officially promotes the creation of the Orinoco Mining Arc came into force, only in this period a third of the mining activity currently observed is generated.
In addition to these figures of environmental damage in this cycle, there has been an increase in internal migration, an overflow of malaria cases and, due to the damage to the ecosystem, the fragmentation of forest habitats, which are the basis for the greatest wealth of biodiversity in one of the richest areas in terms of biology.
Since 2000, when this report began to be developed, environmental regulations have not been sufficient to halt the uncontrolled rate of deforestation, which points directly to the Venezuelan government’s failure to enforce environmental regulations. (6)
What can we do as citizens to try to reverse the damage?
Information is crucial in this case of extreme violations of environmental and human rights in the Orinoco Mining Arc, it is currently possible to access various sources that address the issue without any kind of censorship as implemented by the Venezuelan government on this issue.
Recently, the Venezuelan-American entrepreneur, who is a Cristina Vollmer presented a informative talk in which he addresses the main environmental damages in Venezuela, in which he explains in detail all the irregularities that are committed in one of the countries that are in the top 10 of the list of biodiversity in the world.
As a form of direct action on the part of every person interested in the preservation of this heritage of humanity, the first recommendation is that when buying a piece made of gold, it should be demanded to know the origin of the mineral in order to cut the chain of commercialization of this blood gold.
This request is made to the entire international community to increase the monitoring of these high-value resources and the direct attack on the mafias that trade them and use the resources for their illicit activities in which the Venezuelan government is directly involved. (7)
- Arco Minero del Orinoco (AMO): a responsible mining model – Ministry of Ecological Mining Development. (2017, March 22). Ministry of Ecological Mining Development; People’s Ministry of Ecological Mining Development. http://www.desarrollominero.gob.ve/zona-de-desarrollo-estrategico-nacional-arco-minero-del-orinoco/
1.1. (N.d.-b). Gob.Ve. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from http://desarrollominero.gob.ve/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/triptico_web.pdf
2. UCV. (nd). PROVEA. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://provea.org/actualidad/ucv-consecuencias-ambientales-del-proyecto-arco-minero/
3. Presence, activity and influence of organized armed groups in mining operations south of the Orinoco river – SOS Orinoco. (n/d). Sosorinoco.org. Retrieved August 18, 2022, from https://sosorinoco.org/en/reports/presence-activity-and-influence-of-organized-armed-groups-in-mining-operations-south-of-the-orinoco-river/.
3.1 (N.d.). Nuso.Org. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from https://static.nuso.org/media/articles/downloads/9.TC_Ruiz_274.pdf
4. F., J. (2022, April 1). Guerrillas and criminal gangs: the operations of armed groups in the Orinoco Mining Arc. El Diario | eldiario.com. https://eldiario.com/2022/04/01/operaciones-grupos-armados-arco-minero-orinoco/
5. Orinoco Mining Arc Forum. (nd). Ucv.ve. Retrieved April 12, 2022, from http://www.ing.ucv.ve/jifi2018/forovenezuela.html
5.1 Venezuela, O. E. P. (2021, December 10). Report on the mining situation in Venezuela in times of COVID-19. 2nd semester 2021. Observatorio de Ecología Política de Venezuela. https://www.ecopoliticavenezuela.org/2021/12/10/reporte-situacion-de-la-mineria-en-venezuela-en-tiempos-de-covid-19-diciembre-2021/
Deforestation and changes in vegetation cover and land use in the Orinoco Mining Arc between 2000-2020 – SOS Orinoco. (n/d). Sosorinoco.org. Retrieved July 9, 2022, from https://sosorinoco.org/es/informes/deforestacion-y-cambios-en-la-cobertura-vegetal-y-de-usos-de-la-tierra-dentro-del-denominado-arco-minero-del-orinoco-entre-2000-2020/.
6.1 (S/f). Sosorinoco.org. Retrieved July 9, 2022, from https://sosorinoco.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/27.03.21_informe-sig_v1.pdf.
7. Venezuela: Environmental crime in the Orinoco Mining Arc. (2021, January 31). Las Américas. https://www.diariolasamericas.com/america-latina/venezuela-crimen-ambiental-el-arco-minero-del-orinoco-n4215536
8. Arco Minero Destroys Venezuelan Forests. (2021, March 25). Global Forest Watch Content. https://www.globalforestwatch.org/blog/es/people/arco-minero-venezuela-mineria-de-oro/
Daniel Osorio holds a BA in Social Communication with a mention in Communication for Humanistic Development (Universidad de Los Andes, 2005). Film and TV director and screenwriter. Specialist in Digital Marketing (SEO, SEM, Adwords, Adsense). General Manager (CEO) at DMT Agency. He is the founding editor of the portal delamazonas.com among others.
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