Brasil-France: gold mining fever and the need of political cooperation

Posted on 10 December 2012  | 
WWF opinion article regarding gold mining in Brasil-French Guiana border.

Today, (Dec,10th) , President Dilma Rousseff begins a 48-hour state visit on French soil. A great opportunity to remind that Brazil and France share a physical boundary, located on the entire southern and eastern perimeter of French Guiana. For more than 600 kilometers, only a river and a ridgeline separate the two countries, against the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Amazon forest. Here, Brazil provided the impetus which led to the creation of the Tumucumaque National Park in Amapá state, in 2002, followed in France by the founding of the French Guiana Amazonian Park in 2007. Together, these two adjoining protected areas constitute the largest protected tropical forest in the world.

Yet amidst this seemingly idyllic context, relations between the two countries have come up against a stumbling block. In the heart of these gigantic protected areas dedicated to biodiversity and local communities, a deep-seated ill has taken root: gold fever. Driven by a strong market demand related to global economy and associated with social and economical aspects in both countries, this quest for riches, fuelled by soaring prices for the precious metal, has led to the uncontrolled pillaging of resources that are theoretically under government protection. Water contamination by mercury, destruction of primary forests, degraded life conditions and insecurity have become the daily reality of local and Indigenous communities. Aware of the situation, the two governments decided to commit themselves, by means of a specific bilateral agreement, to joining forces to fight against this scourge, which is polluting rivers and severely tarnishing Brazil’s image in France.

Signed in 2008, the text, which specifically aims to reestablish the credibility of Brazilian and French protected areas by enabling them to receive the necessary means to enforce the law, has still not been ratified by Brazil. Worse yet, since the cowardly assassination of two French soldiers by garimpeiros in June 2012, the apparent passivity of a minority of Brazilian elected officials has cast doubt on the existence of a true bilateral will to put an end to this social and environmental disaster. Public protests organized in Cayenne and the resulting social tensions should now lead the presidents of Brazil and France to accelerate the ratification process on the Brazilian side and initiate the bilateral actions announced almost four years ago. Four years that have witnessed too many crimes, too many offenses, which now weigh heavily on French-Brazilian cooperation.

This new state visit affords Brazil and France the unique opportunity to demonstrate that bilateral actions can fulfill announced ambitions and stop illegal mining in protected areas, as requested by the WWF network and COICA (Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations in the Amazon) through the “Call for the Amazon” launched during the Rio+20 summit.

Isabelle Autissier, President WWF France; Maria Cecília Wey de Brito, WWF Brasil CEO; Claudio Maretti, Living Amazon Initiative leader; Dominiek Plouvier, WWF Guianas Representative.

Illegal gold mining is an increasing threat to the Amazon countries. The activity destroys the forest and its biodiversity, and water pollution with mercury and degradated life conditions are associated to illegal gold mining.
© WWF Guianas Enlarge

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