By Lisseth Boon and Lorena Meléndez G.
Just 14 miles from the renowned Angel Falls, the highest waterfall on the planet that inspired the movie Up, there is at least a score of makeshift barges and an open-pit mine where hundreds of men and women go to work every day.
fter a flyover of the western section of Canaima and more than 30 hours of navigation on the Carrao River, Runrun.es got a firsthand account of how these miners work inside Canaima National Park. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the park was placed under an “orange alert” in 2018, after significant concern was raised over mining activities in the area as well as its devastating impact on the environment and local residents.
Mining sites in Canaima are controlled by the original inhabitants: the Pemón ethnic group. Driven by the collapse of tourism in the area, they have turned to illegal mining in order to survive.
Gold extracted from this ancient landscape is taken on board light aircrafts owned by a local businessman who has been accused by the Venezuelan Public Prosecutor’s Office of being a member of a trafficking network that transports the metal from Venezuela to the Caribbean islands.
This same person is linked to a luxury lodge located inside Canaima National Park. According to the Pemón indigenous people, an armed attack ordered by the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, “to put an end to mining” was planned here on December 8, 2018. Once perpetrated, it forever altered Canaima and its inhabitants.
Gold mining in Canaima is recognized by indigenous organizations which, according to sources, originated in the last five years to regulate the mining activity.
The danger of small-scale and artisanal mining in Canaima is that the mercury employed is highly contaminant and affects not only the rivers’ water but also the fauna and local population. It also causes rainforest deforestation and sedimentation of the Carrao River, a tributary of the already contaminated Caroní River which flows into the Guri Reservoir. 85% of Venezuela’s electricity is generated here. With an ongoing energy crisis throughout the country, more damage to this natural area would be catastrophic.