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Small-scale gold mining and environmental policy challenges in Guyana: protection or pollution.

Abstract. Small-scale gold mining has caused some serious ecological problems in Guyana's interior regions due to irresponsible use of mercury and poor production techniques. The Guyanese government is aware of these environmental problems, but controlling them has proved beyond its capabilities. Small-scale mining sites are numerous, mobile, and difficult to reach. Moreover, small-scale miners are far less concerned with good environmental performance than with economic gains. This article suggests that more stringent and serious policy regulations should be developed.

Resume. L'exploitation miniere a petite echele a provoque de serieux problemes ecologiques dans les regions interieures de la Guyane, cela en raison de l'utilisation irresponsable du mercure et de techniques de production deficientes. Le gouvernement guyanais est conscient de ces problemes environnementaux, mais il s'est montre incapable de les controler. Les sites d'exploitation miniere a petite echele sont nombreux, mobiles et difficiles a atteindre. En plus, les miniers a petite echele sont bien moins portes a developper une bonne gestion environnementale qu'a chercher des gains economiques. Cet article suggere qu'il faudrait mettre en place des politiques de regulation plus strictes.

Over the past two decades or so, small-scale gold mining has become a major concern in many developing countries. On the one hand, governments, development planners, and policy makers have become increasingly aware of the importance of small-scale gold mining in terms of its contribution to reducing poverty, employing people, earning foreign money, and raising the overall national income. On the other hand, they have also realized that uncontrolled small-scale gold mining could lead to adverse and undesirable effects on the environment. A number of developing countries in Africa, Asia, Central and South America are caught in this quandary. Specifically, they are caught between a negative externality (pollution) and a positive externality (positive employment effects and poverty alleviation) in the small-scale gold mining business. Furthermore, there appears to be no systematic model on how to approach small-scale gold mining, particularly concerning the negative environmental effects (see Jennings 1999).

Despite these concerns and challenges, some countries have pushed forward with and registered impressive growth because of small-scale gold mining. Ghana, for example, is now ranked the tenth largest gold-producing country in the world and the second largest producer in Africa (after South Africa). An estimated 13 million people worldwide are currently involved in small-scale mining, and a further 80-100 million people are affected by it (see Hentschel, Hruschka, and Priester 2002). Many of these individuals are women and children. This figure is likely to grow if prospects for regular employment and poverty are not addressed more seriously in developing countries. Guyana, a rich resource country in South America, is no exception to this challenge.

Ever since the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh published The Discoverie of the Large, Rich Bewtiful Empyre in 1596, documenting his search for El Dorado, the city of gold, Guyana has captured the imagination of many would-be adventurers. In the late sixteenth century the Dutch and the British established footholds in Guyana and tried to extract gold. But the lure of gold never fit as prominently into the expectations of most European forays in other areas of South America as it did in Brazil for the Portuguese (see Keen and Haynes 2000, 126). The Dutch were more interested in trading with the Amerindian population, though investigations into the possibility of obtaining metals were carried out spasmodically. The main commodities of trade were food items, timber, dye, and "red slaves" (Whitehead 1988). But this flourishing trade between the Dutch and the Amerindians was forestalled because "the West India Company was not financially secure. Bankruptcy was followed by recapitalization with increased Dutch government involvement, and in 1675 the New West India Company was refl oated with a fresh emphasis on the building of plantations" (Colchester 1997, 14). One cannot, however, rule out the possibility that Guyana's difficult interior terrain, tropical diseases, and the inability to subdue the Amerindians were some of the factors that caused the Europeans to move their colonial enterprise from the interior regions to the fertile coastlands. Although the colonizers maintained trading relations with the interior Amerindians, the success of plantation agriculture, especially with sugar, further diverted their attention away from gold mining. Plantation agriculture on the coastlands presented fewer problems and produced more profits than in the interior regions (Forte 1998; Canterbury 1998; Mars 1998; Thompson 1987; Dunn 1912).

Gold mining in Guyana is more than a century old. Commercial exploitation of gold began in the 1880s, and by 1893 British Guiana exported about 140,000 ounces of gold. This development was in part due to the introduction of European beet sugar on the world market and the subsequent depression of West Indian sugar industries in the 1880s. The temporary removal of the border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana over the Essequibo region also stimulated gold production. Between 1884 and 1900, over 1,250,000 ounces of gold were produced. Most of the gold was produced by "pork knockers" (independent prospectors who were famous for living off dried pork for long periods), and some by joint stock companies (Forte 1998, 74; Thomas 1998).

Since the mid-1980s, a more expansive gold exploitation has taken place in Guyana. After a suffocating period of Cooperative Socialism (1966-85), Guyana returned to the global economy. Development planners opened Guyana's interior to multinational mining corporations and local miners to generate foreign exchange and stimulate the cash-starved economy (Mining Journal 1989).

Subsequently, the government embraced open markets and trade liberalization policies, a move that was supported by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Through the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), these development agencies argued that the reliance on primary commodities--sugar and rice--was disadvantageous to peripheral economies like Guyana. A more secure and sound way towards development (or development based on comparative advantage) would require the exploitation of mineral and forest resources like gold, diamonds, and timber (see World Bank 1993, 1994). Hence, mining and logging were perceived to have the greatest growth potential and were specifically targeted. Poor economic conditions forced Guyana to accept the SAP.

Incidentally, the government's liberalization and privatization policies coincided with the unprecedented rise in the price of gold on the international market--from the historically fixed value of US$35 an ounce in the 1960s to US$850 an ounce in the 1980s (Greer 1993, 91; Brimelow 1988; Ramirez 1987). Subsequently, between 1975 and 1985, global demand for gold was far ahead (about 40%) of what gold mining could supply. Graulau's research indicates that "for the period 1990-1999, the World Gold Council has estimated that total global demand exceeded by 100,000 metric tonnes the amount of gold in existing industrial mines" (2001, 78). While the surge in gold prices generated a gold rush in the Amazon region, especially in Brazil, it never reached a grand scale in Guyana. Nevertheless, Guyana was affected as much as other Latin America countries (United Nations 1996). For the most part, large-scale gold mining activities are subject to regulations and are therefore more easily monitored and supervised than small-scale gold mining, which has proven more elusive and evasive. Mining experts estimate that over 40,000 small-scale gold miners, including 10,000 Brazilian garimpeiros, participate in gold mining in Guyana, a majority illegally. The Guyanese government is aware of illegal gold mining, but also realizes that small-scale gold mining provides revenue for the state and employs the poorest section of the population. Mining accounts for 32% of Guyana's gross national product (GNP), surpassing such traditional exports as sugar and rice (Jacobson and Kratochvil 1998; Pearce 1996). Gold mining and economic growth, however, are not guided in ways that are environmentally sound and socially just. Current environmental laws and regulations, environmental awareness, ecological standards, and protections have not met the expectations of policy makers. Much of the environmental damage is potentially avoidable, but the Guyana government lacks the institutional capacity and the mechanism to effectively monitor the environmental practices of miners.

This article will address the following themes:

* It will highlight the fundamental problems associated with smallscale gold mining (poor mining practices and environmental degradation) in the interior of Guyana.

* It will examine Guyana's environmental policy challenges in regards to effectively monitoring and controlling gold mining activities.

* It will examine the impact of Brazilian garimpeiros' presence in Guyana's interior region.

* It will examine environmental resistance against destructive smallscale gold mining practices.

Environmental Impact of Small-Scale Gold Mining

Gold mining occurs in the area of the Guiana Shield, a huge belt of greenstone beginning in Venezuela and extending eastward through parts of western Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and south into Brazil. The Shield covers a landmass of 415,200 square kilometres of forest. In Guyana, most of the small-scale gold mining occurs outside the densely populated coastland belt and in the jungle or forested region, home to an estimated 70,000 of Guyana's indigenous people. Specifically, small-scale gold mining occurs in the North West region, the Cuyuni/Mazaruni region, and the Patoro/Siparuni region.

Small-scale gold miners are very diverse, but they tend to fit into some basic demographic categories: young males; mainly of African, Amerindian, and East Indian ancestry; migratory; and coastal and group-oriented (Mars 1998). Small-scale miners have always been involved in the interior regions of Guyana (Daly 1975). The leap in gold prices, economic hardships, and the burgeoning black market for gold in the post-independence period (1966), however, led to a particular upsurge in informal mining activities. Alongside these activities have also been environmentally destructive practices in the interior mainly due to lack of financial resources, primitive extraction and processing techniques, poor monitoring procedures, and a scarcity of information needed to understand the significance of environmental impact. As a consequence, the environment is subjected to deforestation, pollution, dredging, discoloration, siltation, and land sterilization from mercury use in mining activities (Lall 2000a, 2000b; Jacobson and Kratochvil 1998; Stabroek News 22 February 2000).

Data for the rate of deforestation as a result of gold mining in Guyana are sparse, but a study in neighbouring Suriname shows that small-scale gold mining is responsible for 49-96 square kilometres of deforestation. By 2009, between 750 and 2,280 square kilometres of Suriname forest will be lost as a result of small-scale gold mining because the regeneration of forest sites in mining areas is slow. These sites experience secondary regrowth and the forest cover is inferior in quality and quantity to areas that have not been mined. Mining sites do not necessarily experience full regrowth because "forest miners completely turn over the soil, eliminating seeds, roots, and tree saplings" (Heemskerk 2001, 125). Furthermore, miners spill two cubic metres of sediments into watercourses for each gram of gold produced (see Macmillan 1995; Heemskerk 2001).

According to the Stabroek News (15 September 2000), the interior regions of Guyana, particularly the rivers, have been exposed to varying degrees of mercury. The release of mercury into the rivers has disturbed the ecosystem and affected Amerindian communities. Since World War II, developed countries like the United States have abandoned the use of mercury to separate gold particles from river sediments (amalgamation) for economic and environmental reasons (Greer 1993, 92). The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recommends that mercury amalgamation should not be practiced because of potential damage to the environment (Greer 1993, 93; United Nations Environment Programme 1991). While there are specific guidelines on mercury use (see Colchester, La Rose, and James 2002), these regulations are not observed or obeyed in Guyana due to economic hardships, the absence of cheap alternative technologies and other sources of employment. Guyana in the 1980s and 1990s was, and still is, one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere (World Bank 1993). The country is saddled with debt burden of US$1.1 billion, more than US$1,000 for each of its 750,000 inhabitants. Currently, the overall economic conditions in Guyana have improved considerably since the People Progressive Party (PPP-Civic) came into power. Civil service workers make about US$110 a month. Individuals in the informal economy and in private business, particularly in Georgetown, earn higher incomes. Miners can make up to six times this amount in less than six months. For the attraction to small-scale gold mining to slow down or reverse, the economic conditions have to be improved. Given the current economic and political situation combined with the reality that an average Guyanese makes about US$800 annually, it is doubtful that gold mining activities will ever slow down in the near future.

Although Guyanese small-scale gold miners are diverse, their activities have created a common pattern of environmental problems. Notable among these problems are levels of tailing and discoloration of rivers. Guyana's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admits that there have been "negative environmental and mining practices by small scale miners" and notes that the "main problem is tailing from operations which cause increased sedimentation in [creek and river] water and discolours it" (Rose 2001). Gold mining operations have also left pools of stagnant water that increase the incidence of malaria. While data do not exist for Guyana, small-scale gold miners in Suriname have left about 9,600 pits annually averaging 80 by 80 metres in an area no larger than 96 square kilometres (see Peterson and Heemskerk 2001, 121). After a heavy rainfall, many rivers overflow into these pits and transmit malaria and monomethyl mercury farther afield. The consequence is that mercury use has reached higher trophic levels within the food web, even at distances not directly related to mining activities. Equally troubling is that the mobility of miners makes it impossible to treat and contain the spread of malaria.

The New Scientist summarizes the effects of gold mining in the interior:
 The extra silt is causing other serious problems for people
 in the area. There are no roads in Upper Mazaruni, and the
 river is the main thoroughfare through the region. Dredging
 operations have already blocked some waterways, and Indians
 claim that night travel is now hazardous. People who live
 along the rivers are also afraid that many species of fish, their
 main source of protein, will be unable to spawn as their new
 breeding grounds are wrecked or buried under the sand banks
 created by the new dredges. (1990, 17)


Faced with this situation and recognizing the necessity for environmental regulation of land dredging, the government has from time to time closed down dredging operations (particularly in the Upper Mazaruni), advocating better guidelines for mining operations, especially arrangements "for the containment of slurries" (Stabroek News 15 March 2001). The government also declared the conditions of the Mazaruni River from Kamarany to Iawalla to be disastrous, and has recognized that these conditions place onerous burdens on the community and environment. Meanwhile, miners have argued against the government's stringent regulations. The miners' principal assertions are that restrictions on mining would impose an unnecessary burden on the industry, force miners out of business, and create economic depression in mining regions (Rose 2001).

Mercury Effects and Case Studies

Humans have always recognized the dangers of mercury. However, our recognition of the effects of mercury entered a new phase in the 1950s when it was discovered that mercury was the cause of Minamata disease (Harada 1995). New research shows that mercury contamination is on the rise, and exposure to levels of mercury that were previously considered safe in fact is not (Grandjean & Weihe 1998, 67). Adverse effects of mercury have been detected and documented at low exposure levels. Mercury can occur naturally in the environment through volcanoes or forest fires, or be released into the environment through human activities. Small-scale gold miners use mercury to extract gold because it is cheap and efficient. Small-scale gold mining releases mercury into the environment through two processes. The first is through the amalgamation process (blow torching) where mercury is added to amalgam and heated. The mercury escapes into the atmosphere as vapour and returns to earth with rain. Through amalgamation miners run the risk of contracting respiratory illness. The second process occurs when sediments are taken from riverbeds and forced through sieves coated with mercury. Through this process mercury is discharged into the land and river ecosystems, then bio-accumulated, finally working its way up the food chain to humans. Exposure to mercury poisoning can cause breathing difficulties, nausea, diarrhea and rashes, insomnia, memory and vision loss, severe tremors, irreversible neurological damage, teratogenic affects, and death (Renzoni, Zino, and Franchi 1998; Colchester 1997; Greer 1993; Malm 1990; Brooke 1990).

It is impossible to calculate the amount of mercury used for the recovery of gold. The government of Guyana frequently complains that miners do not declare their gold to the Guyana Gold Board and unknown quantities are smuggled out of the country. To avoid taxes, private gold buyers do not record the gold they buy. The informal gold mining economy cannot be quantified with any great degree of accuracy (see Cleary 1990). Nevertheless, data do exist for the amount of mercury used for gold recovery in other parts of Latin America. Gold mining practices in these countries are similar to those in Guyana, and so a similar discharge of mercury in Guyana can be expected, albeit to a lesser degree. From 1550 to 1880 Spanish colonizers in Latin America discharged an estimated 200,000 metric tonnes of mercury into the environment (Malm 1998, 73). Currently, small-scale gold mining operations release about 400-500 tonnes of mercury into the environment each year. Most of this discharge comes from Latin America. Brazilian small-scale miners release about 90-120 tonnes of mercury annually. From 1988 to 1997, Venezuelan miners released about 40 tonnes of mercury, and from 1987 to 1997, Columbian miners released about 30 tonnes (Malm 1998; Greer 1993, 92; Brooke 1990). The Environmental Department of Rondonia, Brazil, estimated that from 1979 to 1985, about 100 tonnes of mercury was released into the Madiera River Basin (Malm 1990). It is believed that, for every ounce of gold produced, two ounces of toxic mercury are released into the environment. In Suriname, researchers found that miners claim that they use about 1 kilogram of mercury for every kilogram of gold produced (Heemskerk 2001).

So far, research has been sketchy on effects of mercury on the miners and the environment in Guyana. The government is developing a system to collect and test samples from water and fish where there has been careless use of mercury in gold mining (see below). The Government Information Agency reported that in the period from January to May 2003, 32,610 ounces of gold were produced. If we use the exponential formula that for every ounce of gold produced two ounces of mercury are released into the environment, this would mean that the estimated annual input of mercury into Guyana's interior environment is about 120,000 ounces, which is probably an underestimation of the real situation "since rough field conditions make it difficult to recover the mercury used, and miners therefore frequently use higher Hg:Au ratios of up to 6:1 even 10:1" (Malm 1990).

In 2001, the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST) conducted a study in Isseneru, on the Upper Mazaruni, and in Kurupung, along the Kurupung River, to determine the environmental and health impacts of the use of mercury on these communities. Both communities are home to Amerindians, about 750 persons each, and are about 35-40 kilometres apart. Samples were taken from 168 fish, 71 from Kurupung and 97 from Isseneru. Hair and urine samples were also taken from the residents. Using tolerable limits of 6.4 parts per million (ppm) of mercury on human hair set by the World Health Organization (WHO), the study found that between 89% and 96% of the residents at Isseneru and between 12% and 14% of the residents at Kurupung had exceeded the tolerable limits of mercury in hair (Richards 2001).

While it is not clear why higher levels of mercury were detected in Isseneru than in Kurupung, there is good reason to believe that the residents, apart from direct inhalation of HG vapour during the burning process, were contaminated by consuming fish. Fish accumulate large concentrations of methylmercury, especially in the brain and muscle. Residents in Iseneru and Kurupung often complain of rashes, sores, and trembling, all symptoms of mercury contamination. There are laws regulating mercury in Guyana, and the most recent was implemented under the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Act. Specifically, the Act stipulates safe storage and careful use of mercury (see Colchester, La Rose, and James 2002). These regulations are not obeyed. The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends that mercury levels in fish for human consumption should not exceed 0.5 ppm. It stresses further that these guidelines should not be used in communities where fish is consumed in large quantities. Amerindian communities and individuals in boreal areas of Guyana consumed fish about three to four times a week. This would mean that mercury contamination is much higher in the food web in these communities. Similar mercury poisoning was found among Maroon miners in Suriname (De Kom, Van der Voet, and De Wolff 1998). The Maroons of Suriname are descendents of runaway African slaves, who established autonomous communities in the Suriname rainforest. Unlike some Amerindians, Surinamese Maroons have control over mining territories, and either hire other Surinamese and Brazilian migrant workers, or charge a fee to mine on their territories. Tests from several mining sites in Brazil and Ecuador also show that miners had mercury levels that were over the WHO tolerable limits (see Tarras-Wahlberg et al. 2000; Bezzerra, Verissimo, and Uhl 1996; Akagi et al. 1995).

The effects of mercury poisoning are probably more widespread in the interior, but it is not always easy to tell. The symptoms of mercury poisoning and other tropical diseases, like malaria, for example, are similar. Given the similarities in their symptoms and that trained doctors are few in the interior regions (trained personnel are usually attracted more to the comfort of urban areas), mercury poisoning can often be misdiagnosed as malaria, especially in the early stages of infection. The geography of Amerindian communities also makes it difficult to carry out thorough medical practices since many of these communities are isolated and hard to reach. Moreover, Amerindians are cautious about western forms of medicine and, thus, generally rely on their own traditional medical practice, which in many cases, do not treat mercury poisoning effectively. These challenges are further compounded by the Guyanese health-care system in the interior where it is noticeably too under-funded, under-staffed, and under-trained to deal with the complexities associated with small-scale gold mining and mercury poisoning.

Small-scale gold mining will continue, as will mercury poisoning. The theory that workers tend to gravitate to jobs with the highest expected income does not hold true for small-scale gold mining. Irrespective of the price of gold on the world market and increased opportunities for employment outside the mining sector, miners are still drawn to the profession (see Heemskerk 2001). Certainly, gold mining jobs do pay better than other manual labour, and realistically, the rise in production costs and the drop in gold prices do contribute to varying levels of mining activities, but do not yield a point of noticeable change. Small-scale miners see gold mining as a source of employment and do not take into account the fluctuation of gold prices on the world market like multinational corporations do. Large, transnational mining corporations like Golden Stars (Omai) in Guyana have often shelved exploration for more gold until the price of gold recovers. Small-scale gold miners tend to ignore these events. Miners find it economically beneficial to work in the interior since it relieves them from basic financial obligations like housing and rations. Miners generally live in makeshift tents and hammocks, and mining bosses generally provide basic rations like salted pork, rice, and wild meat, amenities that are not often available to the poorest section of the Guyanese population. Some miners do complain of harsh working conditions, loneliness, and malaria, but the possibility of striking it "rich" compensates for these burdens. One study shows that 30% of Guyanese households accept that the rivers are threatened, while 63% of miners feel that their activities have no environmental impact, reflecting the slow pace of environmental awareness in Guyana (Richards 2000a). Small-scale miners are more concerned with their immediate survival and maximizing their income than with long-term health risks to themselves and hazards posed to the environment. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has identified five major health risks associated with small-scale mining: exposure to dust, exposure to mercury and other chemicals, the effects of noise and vibration, the effects of poor ventilation, and the effects of overexertion, cramped work spaces, and poor equipment (1999, 21).

Environmental Regulations and Challenges

Only since the latter part of the twentieth century have environmental issues become a global concern. This new environmental concern was guided by three fundamental views: finiteness in the 1960s and 1970s, interdependence in the 1980s, and sustainable development in the 1990s (Strada 2003, 75-77). In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil, Agenda 21 was adopted, which called for all countries to pursue sustainable development. Essentially, Agenda 21 states that all countries have a right to develop economically, but they must do so in a responsible way: reap economic benefits from the environment without degrading it (United Nations 1992). In tandem, Guyana established its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1996, and since then the country has made some significant strides in environmental protection and sustainable development. The EPA is supported by a host of international environmental bodies and projects, including the Iwokrama Rainforest Project, the Britain Overseas Development Administration, the German Technical Agency, the Canadian International Development Agency, the United Nations Development Programme, the World Wild Life Regional Forest Project, and Conservation International (see Roopnarine 2000, 2002).

In regard to gold mining, the government places the responsibility on the Guyana Geology Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana EPA. The government claims that these regulatory bodies have helped to bring environmental problems under control, especially large-scale gold mining since the Omai cyanide spill in the Essequibo River in 1995. Despite these claims, the GGMC and the EPA are ill prepared and ill equipped to carry out their mandated responsibilities. Guyana's environmental monitoring agencies do not have the financial resources, trained personnel, or advanced technologies that are all required for sound environmental protection. Moreover, there are only 230 and 40 staff workers in the GGMC and EPA, respectively. These staffs are certainly too small to monitor Guyana's environmental problems.

Additionally, GGMC staff members have also engaged in unauthorized rogue raids on mining camps, beating miners and seizing their gold. By law, the Guyanese government unequivocally controls all sub-surface minerals and has extensive powers to raid and search suspects if there is enough evidence of gold theft, or what the government prefers to call crimes against the state. But these laws are abused. The Guyana Information Agency (2003b) acknowledges that
 In an effort to clamp down on tax evasion in the mining industry,
 the GGMC is currently investigating reports of under-declaration
 of gold production in the gold fields, predominantly in
 the Mazaruni area, where money-laundering is also said to be
 taking place through the illicit sale of gold. This scenario is in
 direct contravention to the laws governing the declaration and
 the sale of gold, and also poses a further setback for the Gold
 Board in substantiating its declaration statistics and record.
 The GGMC is also investigating the underhand swapping of
 gold in exchange for fuel smuggled from Venezuela, involving
 miners from the neighbouring territory.


The Guyanese government is currently working with various environmental bodies to curb bad mining practices. The Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST) at the University of Guyana suggests the use of retort. A retort is a closed container, which traps and cools mercury vapour when gold is burned. The liquid mercury can be recovered and reused. This new technique will no doubt open new frontiers to sustainability in gold mining. But such awareness, commitment, and responsibilities have so far proved beyond the capacity of the Guyana environmental regulatory bodies. Currently, reckless mining practices are, in many respects, beyond detection because the EPA and GGMC are unable to deploy officers in sufficient numbers to patrol mining areas and to apply stiff sanctions. Moreover, the twin woes of an under-funded and under-trained environmental policy program have created loopholes in the regulatory framework that allow miners to infiltrate the industry and avoid regulations.

Small- and medium-sized gold mining may prove too evasive for Guyana's environmental policy capacity unless there are stronger commitments to monitor the interior more effectively. Environmental regulatory bodies are running years behind deadlines, mandated or not. Many monitoring facilities are old and deteriorating and present more problems than solutions. The GGMC and the EPA operate under a complex mix of laws, regulations, orders, directives, and so on. The result is intense frustration and serious overlaps and gaps in regulatory requirements and failure to address mining problems according to their relative risks to the environment and people. Consequently, administrative bodies are structurally weak and inefficient and therefore are in a disadvantaged position to ensure and enforce preventative actions against careless mining practices. In addition, the country has been reeling from a wave of crime, ethnic polarization, mass migration, huge national debt, and corruption (Roopnarine 2003). Mining areas have experienced a new and a more dangerous style of crime. Mining camps are no longer threatened by "conventional knife-wielding criminals, but attacks are now being launched by heavily-armed gangs carrying AK-47 rifles" (Guyana Information Agency 2003a). The mining sector has taken a severe hit from the current crime wave. Estimated losses in 2003, for example, were around US$2-3 million (Lucas 2003). Poverty, unemployment, poor education, and limited opportunities for personal advancement are the root causes for Guyanese involvement in small-scale mining.

Government officials contend that it is difficult to monitor hundreds of small mining operations throughout the country. A policy of public awareness is embraced, which means that the government is relying on miners to practice safe mining and hopes that citizens will report incidents of reckless mining. Relying jointly or in partnership with the public for the detection of infractions can be a forward-looking complementary strategy towards safe mining practices. Sound data on careless mining is of little practical use, however, unless this information is promptly acted upon (see Hall 1997). Moreover, institutions and networks to bring in data to analyze and disseminate require a preset plan and the resources to curb predatory gold mining practices, a priority Guyana is yet to embrace seriously. Underlying this malaise is the absence of a political will to strike hard against unregulated mining and the full empowerment to exercise overall authority over mining management. As stated earlier, the government is cautious about over-regulating small-scale gold mining because it brings in badly needed revenue, and more importantly, small-scale gold mining keeps a poor section of the population employed. The government is cognizant that over-regulation of small-scale mining would create additional employment problems and exacerbate already tense labour relations currently existing throughout through the country. But even if Guyana does muster the political will to pass laws, there is no vehicle for the enforcement of these laws due to corruption and lack of funding.

Brazilian Garimpeiros

Most of the small-scale miners are of Guyanese origin, but substantial numbers are Brazilian garimpeiros. The Director of the Forest People's Program of the World Rainforest Movement, Marcus Colchester, declares that at first the inflow of garimpeiros
 was a mere trickle, the prospectors trekking south into the
 Kanuku and Marudi Mountains. In early 1990, however, the
 flow accelerated dramatically, with 10,000 miners reportedly
 crossing into the land of the Patamona Indians at the headwaters
 of the Potaro. (1991, 11)


Article 108 in the Codigo de Mineracao, the text that regulates mining activity in Brazil, declares that garimpeiros are individuals who extract useful mineral substances through rudimentary mining techniques (Cleary 1990, 22). These garimpeiros have enormous control over mining activities and developed a reputation for ignoring the basic environmental regulations in their homeland and in Guyana. Brazilian miners are in Guyana on a short-term basis and therefore have little interest in conserving and protecting the environment (Fallon 2001; Stabroek News 30 July 2001). According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):
 A major cause of environmental degradation is the presence of
 external environmental costs and the lack of well-defined property
 rights. Open access to many environmental resources free
 of charge means that producers lack incentives to take the full
 cost of environmental degradation into account. (1999b, 2)


Contemporary research has brought new ideas and methodological frameworks to the study of informal labour markets like small-scale gold mining (see Portes, Castells, and Benton 1989). Nevertheless, there has not been a substantial shift from the original position that workers in the informal markets do not have the ownership over the means of production (Sunkel 1993). This theory might explain why Brazilian small-scale miners pay little regard to the environment. The confl ict related to small-scale mining is not necessarily between humanity and the environment but a struggle between the haves (elites) and the have-nots (masses). Nowhere are Marxist class confl ict theories more salient than in Latin America and the Caribbean. Here, a small group controls the means of production and exploits those who are not in control. In Brazil, the richest 20% of the population receives 67.5% of national income while the poorest 40% receives 7% of the country's income. Furthermore, social inequities and inequitable income distribution are very noticeable in Brazil, although it should be noted that global poverty has been on the rise in Third World countries (Keen & Haynes 2000).

The garimpeiros' incursions have also had a significant sociological impact. A virtual sub-culture has been created in the interior, resembling the lifestyle of the American "wild west." Alcoholism, prostitution, diseases, and crime are rife in mining sections of the interior (Colchester 1997, 73). Many young Amerindians, coastal Guyanese and Brazilians have found jobs in mines and are subsequently drawn to the "wild west" lifestyle in the jungle of Guyana. Saturday night fights for the "best" women and competition to father the most children from various women go back to the "good old days" of well-known gold miner Wellesley Baird (see Baird 1982). Recently, Trafficking of Amerindian girls has been reported (Stabroek News 15 June 2004). Guyanese anthropologist Janette Forte writes that Amerindian communities "located within mining districts have suffered the worst direct impacts--environmental degradation, social disruptions, the inflationary effects of mining as well as demographic change as outsiders have come to outnumber the local inhabitants" (1998, 91). HIV infections have also increased in the interior regions (Carroll 2000, 159; New Scientist 2000). Some problems associated with migratory labour in the gold mines in Brazil and South Africa are also visible in Guyana:
 Migration of city dwellers into the Amazon jungle region may
 increase the risk of transmission of HIV to indigenous people.
 Conversely, gold miners can become infected with HIV during
 contact with commercial sex workers in small villages near
 the mining areas. HIV can then be further transmitted to the
 miner's spouse and unborn children on his return to the city.
 Whether the miners contracted the infection while living in the
 jungle or whether they entered the region already infected is
 unclear; however, the high percentage [6.5%] of HIV infection
 in the population provides a reservoir for the disease in this
 region and warrants immediate public health intervention to
 curb its spread. (Palmer et al. 2002, 331)


Additionally, unknown quantities of gold are smuggled out daily. At the national level, gold smuggling not only eludes the grasp of the government but also robs the public coffers of funds that are badly needed for the control and management of these very mining operations. At the international level, gold and diamond smuggling have the potential to violate the Kimberley Protocol, which is intended to limit the trade in rough diamonds from some African countries, the proceeds of which provide funds for the illegal trade in arms and fuelling armed conflicts among rebel groups (MacAskill 2002). In 2001, Brazilian Federal Police in Burin District of Boa Vista seized US$2 million worth of diamonds and a 42.26-carat stone smuggled out of Guyana.

Interestingly, gold smuggling is usually considered to be what sociologists call a "crime without victims" (unless you are the state or the offender). Victimless crimes are difficult to control because in most cases there are not any aggrieved victims to bring charges (Robertson 1987, 203). Gold smuggling results from government control of foreign currency entering the country, the existence of a black market for foreign currencies, the better price of non-refined gold in other countries, tax avoidance, and money laundering (Veiga 1997). Furthermore, the lack of transparency makes it difficult to know if revenues derived from small-scale gold mining accrue to the national treasury or are directly reinvested in the gold mining industry. Researchers have found that in "Tanzania, for example, the implementation of a mineral trade liberalization policy in the 1980s created to formalize ASM (Artisanal Small Scale Mining) sector increased the legally traded gold production from US$0.55 to US$38.78m in 1992" (Hentschel et al. 2002, 30).

Certainly, the influx of Brazilian garimpeiros has brought new technologies, equipment, and cash to the gold mining industry. For instance, Brazilians have introduced technologies that are portable and easy to dismantle, a crucial advantage in the jungle of Guyana (Cleary 1990, 25). Nevertheless, they have also engaged in unregulated and rapacious mining practices. The presence of Brazilian miners has posed a serious threat to law and order and the environmental stability of many interior communities, including the Kaieteur gorge. Their influx into Guyana has to do with the failure of agrarian reforms and rural-settlement policies in Brazil, a crackdown on illegal gold mining in Brazil, the lack of border controls, and the slack monitoring of the interior regions of Guyana. Consequently, the interior region is essentially left open to plunder and pillage (Roopnarine 2000, 2003; Colchester 1997; Prabhala 2002). The government admits that small-scale mining is elusive and difficult to manage. The most serious challenges have been to stamp out illegal mining practices, gold smuggling, and environmental damage. The government has called for more public awareness to help the GGMC and EPA to monitor and control small-scale gold mining. It has also instituted guidelines and rules to disfavour foreigners, as the government believes that they are overrunning the mining business, evading the payment of royalties, and paying scant regard to the environment (including dumping untreated human waste into creeks and rivers). The new guidelines state that "foreign nationals bringing US$500,000 for direct investment in the mining sector could qualify for self-sponsorship and sponsor other foreigners. Those bringing a minimum of US$50,000 qualify for self-sponsorship alone." The protocol demands that "any foreign national found without a valid work permit would be prosecuted and fined G$100,000 or one year imprisonment" (Stabroek News 2 April 2001, 17 April 2001, 24 May 2001).

Although these measures represent a significant step towards improving mining operations, and certainly bring in more revenue to the GGMC, serious doubts have emerged as to their likely efficacy. First, these new regulations were intended to encourage Brazilians to hire Guyanese. This has not been the case. Apart from negative mining practices, Brazilians usually get around environmental regulations by marrying Guyanese women and having them apply for land and mining concessions. Second, GGMC staff members have allowed Brazilian miners to operate in closed and disputed areas in exchange for kickbacks. For instance, in Mahdia, a major gold mining district in western Guyana, it is "a normal practice by mine officers to allow miners to operate in closed or disputed areas for 10% cut of the gold production" (Richards 2000b).

Resistance to Small-Scale Gold Mining

Aside from some concern from various international organizations such as Conservation International, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development, opposition to small-scale gold mining and environmental degradation comes mainly from Guyana Human Rights Association, the Amerindians, and the local newspapers. Most Guyanese are not genuinely concerned with the environmental effects of small-scale gold mining and mercury use because they are unaware of the dangers. Moreover, a majority of Guyanese are located a great distance from mining activities (90% of the Guyanese population lives on the narrow coastal belt), and therefore are not directly positioned to witness the environmental degradation firsthand, nor are they directly affected by careless mining practices. One must caution that urban markets rely on fish from interior regions, which might be exposed to mercury contamination. However, most fish for domestic consumption are caught in the coastal regions (which may be contaminated with pesticides used in the rice and sugar cane fields, although more research is needed to confirm this). Fish for export is caught about 400 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. In June 2000, the Institute of Applied Science and Technology was certifi ed to test for heavy metals in fish and fishery products. Local fishing industries had to confirm that their products have been tested by a certifi ed laboratory and are free from any toxic metals in order to be able to market their fish and fishery products to the European Union countries (Williams 2003).

Environmental concerns are not as widespread in Guyana as they are elsewhere in the world. Guyanese in general are not environmentally oriented and, therefore, there is little pressure on the government to protect the environment. Colonialism and Cooperative Socialism inculcated in Guyanese a feeling of environmental irresponsibility and neglect. The general population sees environmental protection as a government responsibility, and does not pressure the government for good environmental performance. Similarly, the government does not pressure citizens on environmental matters or hold them accountable for environmental destruction unless the case is blatant. Public awareness of environmental degradation, public pressure to solve environmental problems, and participation in decision-making are prerequisites for development and implementation of sound environmental policies. A number of countries in the Central and Eastern European states, which are similar to Guyana in regard to the transition to democracy, have taken environmental principles seriously. The application of these environmental principles has shown remarkable achievements and, in some cases, even matched or surpassed environmental achievements and standards in developed countries (see OECD 1999). One has to be careful, however, not to overstress these achievements, since the economic system of Guyana is somewhat different from Central and Eastern European states. Not all countries respond similarly to environmental regulations and economic reforms, so measures should be taken to treat these countries on a one-to-one basis. The macro-economic instability in Guyana mitigates any substantial development towards sound environmental progress. Unless satisfactory economic growth is realized, environmental sustainability will be difficult to achieve.

Currently, there are no less than four separate Amerindian organizations--the Guyana Organization of Indigenous Peoples, the Amerindian People's Association, the National Amerindian Council, and the Amerindian Action Movement of Guyana--that have not only opposed negative small-scale gold mining practices but also have taken important roles in discussing environmental issues with the government, worked with local communities, and helped implement environmental projects. For example, Jean La Rose, an indigenous Guyanese woman, won the Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's highest prize for grassroots environmentalism. She has pressured the government to stop handing out mining concessions in tribal regions. These achievements are, however, not uniform in Guyana. Although some of these environmental groups have been around since colonial times, their voices have not had a serious impact. Not only do these organizations lack funding, but their causes have not gotten the attention and appeal in non-Amerindian Guyanese communities, including the Guyanese Parliament.

Amerindian communities in the interior are generally viewed as backward and primitive societies that have little to offer Guyana in terms of economic development (see Guyana Review 2001). Their supposed backwardness and communalism are regarded as impediments to growth and development, and therefore policies are implemented to utilize interior lands. The crux of the government argument is that some want the Amerindians to remain in poverty and backwardness "while the rest of the world rush forward to grasp opportunities for social and economic advancement" (see Ishmael 1995). At a conference of indigenous leaders in Guyana in 1999, Amerindian leaders expressed the impact of government policies on their environment:
 The present situation with uncontrolled logging and mining is
 posing a threat to our peoples, our lands, our environment and
 our lives. We have heard many terrible stories from all regions
 of Guyana about the negative impact of these activities, all of
 which are taking place without our consent. In many cases, we
 are not even notifi ed that Government has given our lands to
 a mining or logging company. Our rivers have been destroyed
 in Region 1, in the Lower, Middle and Upper Mazaruni and in
 Region 8. Our forests have been raped and destroyed. In the
 Barama concession, the village of Oronoque was bulldozed to
 make way for Barama's compound. Their burial ground was
 dug up and desecrated. In Region 9, Government recently gave
 5.1 million acres to the Vannessa mining company without
 consulting the people. This land belongs to the Wai Wai, Wapisiana
 and Macusi peoples. (Amerindian Peoples Association
 of Guyana 1999)


Moreover, Amerindians are yet to receive title for their land, which paradoxically has always belonged to them. Following independence, the British Government and the Government of Guyana agreed that land rights should be granted to Amerindians. So far 6,000 square miles have been granted to Amerindians, far less than the 43,000 square miles they believe belong to them. The lack of official land titles has left Amerindians unable to prevent invasion of their land by miners from the coastal areas, Brazil, and Venezuela. Meanwhile, mining and logging concessions have been given to a host of multinational corporations.

Amerindians themselves and various international bodies have begun to challenge conventional views about Amerindians. Unfortunately, Amerindians have found it difficult to use the courts as an instrument to enforce accountability, partly because Guyanese judges are not sufficiently knowledgeable about the frequent technical problems so associated with environmental policy. Since the 1990s, the government and mining companies have been forced to take a more cautious approach towards Amerindian communities and the environment at large, but these initiatives have so far proved challenging.
 This lobby [gold mining] has not been happy with the growing
 number of exploration and mining agreements secured by
 foreign gold mining companies, nor with charges leveled by
 indigenous communities and environmentalists that they have
 been responsible for widespread environmental damage, to
 rivers and riverbanks in particular. In contrast the gold mining
 lobby has tended to stress its national credentials, its pioneering
 role in opening up the interior and safeguarding the interior
 from being totally overrun by Brazilians and Venezuelans, and
 its contribution to both GDP and foreign exchange earnings.
 (Forte 1998, 75)


The laws of Guyana state that no Amerindian under 14 should be employed in mines, none should be employed over eight hours a day, and all should be protected against explosives and poisonous substances (Mars 1998, 60; see also Laws of Guyana, Mining Act, chapter 65:01). The International Labor Organization was instrumental in having Convention 182 ratified by 113 countries in 2001. Convention 182 states that the worst form of child labour is in the mines and should not be allowed. Guyana ratified Convention 182 in 2001. But a report in the Guyana Chronicle (2002) suggests that child labour exists in the formal and non-formal sector. There is no reliable information on how many children are involved in gold mining in Guyana (see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2004). A few countries that provide data on child labour agree that 10,000-250,000 children are working full- or part-time in small-scale mines (see Jennings 1999). In Guyana, mining bosses and companies do not observe international and national labour regulations on a consistent basis, especially in far-fl ung areas in the interior.

Concluding Remarks and Recommendations

The assessment of small-scale gold mining in Guyana shows that it is not guided by safe and sound environmental standards. Gold mining operations continue to devastate Guyana's interior. Creeks, rivers, and land are polluted with mercury and cyanide. Large tracts of vegetation are destroyed. Habitats are disturbed. Wildlife and Amerindian communities are displaced and poisoned. The government tries to curb predatory gold mining, but small-scale gold mining sites are numerous, mobile, and hard to reach. Guyana's environmental monitoring body is too weak to control bad mining practices. The country's poor economic standing coupled with fraud and corruption within the environmental regulatory bodies impair its ability to monitor mining activities effectively. Economic hardships drive many Guyanese--a majority with little knowledge of sustainable development--into small-scale gold mining. Poor salaries also leave environmental staff members susceptible to bribes and kickbacks.

Given these problems, this article suggests the following. First, the government should establish a separate environmental department, or a new branch within the environmental department, to control smallscale mining, to craft a set of government monitored incentives and sanctions that would strengthen environmental management and bring it closer to public and local concern as well as increase accountability, transparency, and participation. Second, the government should place environmental monitoring bodies in the interior not too far from mining sites, and provide them the technology to be mobile. Third, the government as well as private organizations should train and utilize the Amerindian population, especially village captains and councils, to deal with rule and regulation violations. Fourth, local regular meetings with the Amerindian population should be held to learn about their environmental concerns. Fifth, the government should provide some, even partial, environmental education programs for small-scale miners to learn about positive effects of sustainable development. Sixth, the government should establish a modern laboratory to carry out metallurgical analyses, geo-chemical tests, and environmental analyses of mining waste; these results must be disclosed to the public. Seventh, the government should institute restoration laws and enact a performance bond. Eight, more incentives should be provided for environmental staff workers as well as incentives for small-scale miners for good environmental practice. Also, the government should engage in a more aggressive campaign to have miners use retort. Finally, a national environmental fund should be set up to attract domestic revenues and international finance through grants, donors, and so on.

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LOMARSH ROOPNARINE

University of the Virgin Islands
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