Venezuela’s move to allow gold and diamond mining in six rivers in its Amazon region may worsen the environmental damage from a state-backed mining effort while also fuelling the spread of the coronavirus, according to activists and lawmakers.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government has lifted the long-standing prohibition on mining in the rivers, with the opposition-controlled National Assembly condemning the decree last week.
Though such mining is already taking place illegally, critics said lifting the probation will encourage wildcat mines that for years have been a hotbed of infectious diseases just as the country is seeking to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
“There is a direct relationship between mining and the growth of some epidemics such as malaria, measles and others,” said Luis Bello of Wataniba Amazon Socio-Environmental Working Group, an environmental activist group. “So in the context of the coronavirus, mining activity in these rivers can create an environment conducive to contagion.”
The official resolution authorises mining in the Cuchivero, Caura, Aro, Caroni, Yuruari and Cuyuni rivers. They are in the government-created Orinoco Mining Arc, an area of more than 42,800 square miles in the Venezuelan Amazon.
Maduro’s government since 2016 has supported small-scale mining there to bring in revenue amid an economic crisis, an effort that has expanded as the United States has increased sanctions meant to force him from power.