PUERTO ORDAZ, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuela’s move to allow gold and diamond mining in six rivers in its Amazon region may worsen the environmental damage from a state-backed mining effort while also fueling the spread of the coronavirus, according to activists and lawmakers.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government this month lifted the long-standing prohibition on mining in the rivers, with the opposition-controlled National Assembly condemning the decree last week.
Though such mining is already taking place illegally, critics said lifting the probation will encourage wildcat mines that for years have been a hotbed of infectious diseases just as the country is seeking to keep COVID-19 – the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus – from spreading.
“There is a direct relationship between mining and the growth of some epidemics such as malaria, measles and others,” said Luis Bello of Wataniba Amazon Socio-Environmental Working Group, an environmental activist group.
“So in the context of the coronavirus, mining activity in these rivers can create an environment conducive to contagion.” Venezuela’s information ministry did not respond to a request for comment.