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NGOs call for removal of gold mining as “essential service”

Several non-governmental organisations are calling on authorities to remove gold mining operations as an essential service and closely monitor the movement of people especially truckers moving through Guyana’s interior.

“Apart from its questionable status as an essential industry, the actual practice of gold-mining aggravates the Covid-19 threat posed to people in interior communities as witnessed by complaints from Chinese Landing (Region 1) and the South Rupununi (Region 9),” the organisations said in a joint statement.

The Guyana Gold Board alone last year earned US$ 111,971,234.84 from the sale of 79,702.849 ounces. Official records show that 634,905 ounces of gold were declared.

The organisations, which include Rights of the Child, Amerindian People’s  Association, Red Thread and the Guyana Environmental Initiative, also want “more robust enforcement measures to prevent interior traffic penetrating interior communities.”

Legal action, according to the organisations, must be taken against individuals and companies working on or supplying services to illegal mining or forestry operations.

The calls were issued against the background of an expected gold rush with the price of the precious yellow metal being almost US$1,800 per ounce. “How mining found its way on to the list is a mystery. Designating a service to be ‘essential’ implies all Guyanese in some way have a right to it. Even if that were the case with mining, the appropriate agency to protect that right would be the Environmental Protection Agency – not the mining industry,” the organisations said.

The 12 non-governmental organisations note that there are complaints of increased illegal gold mining and forestry and mining because oversight officers have withdrawn due to the Covid-19 lockdown.

The Community-Based Rehabilitation, East Coast Clean-Up Committees,  Guyana Human Rights Association, Guyana Society for the Blind, Policy Forum Guyana, South Rupununi District Council, Benab Foundation Inc and the Ursuline Sisters also added their voice to the calls.

They want authorities to undertake a comprehensive cost/benefit review of the mining sector in Guyana to verify the claims made with respect to abuses of various kinds.

The non-governmental organisations say that attempts by interior communities to control access to communities are being circumvented by truck drivers.  The organisations say commercial activities, including trucking, associated with illegal mining compounds the threat of the  Covid-19 virus.

The organisations also want more rigorous enforcement of border closure and informal crossings with Brazil.

The organisations highlighted that Region 9 (Upper Takatu- Upper Essequibo) remains vulnerable to illegal visitors, despite closure of the border with Brazil.

They said that was  “particularly alarming given the official complacency in Brazil towards Covid-19, which has resulted in close to 1,000 Yanomami people dying from contact with illegal miners and burials in mass graves even during the night in Manaus.

According to the organisations, the killing last week of the Brazilian-Guyanese miner in Marudi by a Manaus-based gang reinforces Guyanese vulnerability.