Saturday, September 4, 2010

Venezuela cracks down on illegal mining - Photo essay

A photo essay on the website of Time magazine includes this dramatic image of Venezuelan soldiers arriving by helicopter at the beach at El Playón on the Rio Caura, Bolivar State, during an operation to clear out illegal miners on the Upper Caura.

The photo was taken by Venezuelan photographer Carlos Garcia Rawlins, who has worked as a freelance photographer since 2007 and is a stringer for the Reuters News agency. His photos have appeared in The New York Times, the LA Times, The Washington Post, The Wall St Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, The Guardian, Le Monde and Stern.

I was in El Playón in October 2009 when the illegal mining operation in the Río Yuruaní was in full swing. Each night, heavily laden canoes arrived with barrels of gasoline and diesel used to power the pumps in the mining camps.

Sanema Indians came in from all around the Caura to work as porters carrying heavy plastic cannisters of gasoline up the portage route from El Playón to the top of Salto Para, where they were loaded onto canoes and taken upriver to the Yuruani.

I was told by local Yekuana that the "bulla", or seam of gold, was discovered in 2006 by an indigenous group who dug up some gold nuggets.

As soon as word got out about the gold the area was invaded by illegal miners that had been kicked out of La Paragua by the army and National Guard.

At one point over 3,000 people invaded this remote fragile rainforest, stripping the tree cover with powerful hoses and washing tons of sediment and poisonous mercury into the river system in their desperation to extract every last grain of gold from the ground.

It's just tragic to see the absolute devastation and contamination left by the miners in the Caura basin, formerly one of the most pristine areas of rainforest in Venezuela.

To read more about the crackdown on illegal mining in Venezuela and see more of Garcia Rawlins' photos click here:

To read about my trip to the Rio Caura to visit the Yekuana click here:

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