Forest Peoples Programme Supporting forest peoples’ rights

Venezuelan university and indigenous health workers report more epidemics in Caura river caused by illegal mining

15 July, 2017

After a serious, new outbreak of malaria in the Upper Caura river, University staff from Ciudad Bolivar and Ye’kwana health workers have once again appealed to the national and regional governments to end the illegal mining in the area. The Caura river, a major tributary of the Orinoco and celebrated for its biodiversity, is the homeland of the Ye’kwana and Sanema peoples, who first filed a joint application for recognition of their rights to their territory in the upper river after a pioneering mapping and self-demarcation procedure, 19 years ago. As Venezuela’s economy declines, illegal mining in the Caura has intensified.

The indigenous and University staff note that although all flights are meant to be regulated by national security forces, increasing numbers of planes operating out of  airports in Ciudad Bolivar and La Paragua are using clandestine airstrips to supply the gold mines with food, fuel and machinery. River pollution from the mercury used in the illegal mines is also thought to explain the rising numbers of indigenous children with birth defects, say the medical and environmental staff. A general lack of health care facilities also explains the high rates of mortality and morbidity among Sanema and Ye’kwana children. All this is happening even though the area was recently declared a National Park, over the heads of the indigenous peoples, by the administration in Caracas.

In a joint statement of indigenous leaders and the celebrated national research institute, Alejandro Lanz, the Director of the Venezuelan Centre for Ecological Investigations (CIEV) states that

Social problems, such as the displacement of indigenous villages, neo-slavery, prostitution, alcohol and drugs, and the systematic theft of outboard engines, have been brought in by this illegal mining in what is classed as the last natural frontier in Venezuela, the Caura.

Statement (Spanish only)