[While Chavez's government touts the policy for its enormous oil sector, it has left less lucrative areas like the diamond industry unregulated. The result is smuggling, environmental damage and international concern.]
Unregulated Diamond Mining Wreaks Environmental Havoc in Venezuela
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Playa Blanca, Venezuela -- On the doorstep of the nation's most famous national park, Ruben Gonzalez's small team of miners needed only a month to carve a yawning crater out of a savanna with axes and high-powered hoses.
Gonzalez is among 200,000 miners searching for diamonds and gold in mineral-rich Bolivar state. He operates a mining camp called Playa Blanca outside Canaima National Park - a UNESCO world heritage site - and almost nothing about the operation is legal. His team has no mining permit, violates environmental laws, doesn't pay taxes and sells diamonds to smugglers.
"We have laws, but you don't see them," Gonzalez said. "The state is the one that fails to put the controls in place."
Under the banner of a socialist revolution, President Hugo Chavez intends to boost state control over Venezuela's vast stock of natural resources and funnel its fortunes to the poor. While his government touts the policy for its enormous oil sector, it has left less lucrative areas like the diamond industry unregulated. The result is smuggling, environmental damage and international concern.
The long chain of mismanagement in Venezuela's diamond industry starts at the top, with the government's own defiance of an international ban on trading conflict diamonds. For more than two years, it has not issued a single export certificate to traders in Venezuela under the United Nations-backed Kimberley Process, an accord signed by 46 diamond-producing nations including Venezuela. A certificate ensures that exported diamonds have not been used to finance wars that have killed hundreds of thousands of Africans.
The concern, say industry watchdogs, is that the South American nation's noncompliance with the U.N.-backed Kimberley Process mandate encourages politically unstable African nations to default as well.
"You hear people from governments saying if Venezuela's not going to crack down on this, then why should we crack down on ourselves," said Ian Smillie, research coordinator for Partnership Africa Canada, a nongovernmental organization based in Ottawa.
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