A recurring idea within the media trends that seek to persuade Venezuelans to emigrate, is that the country “has no future.” Exhausted by the intense psychological war that perpetuates the notion of a country destined for disaster, many have quit to changing the “gold” literally for mirrors.
In a week where mining activity has gained special relevance, due to the conflict generated in a protected territory in southern Venezuela, Sputnik spoke exclusively with Víctor Cano, Minister of Ecological Mining Development, to discuss this and other aspects related to such a sensitive economic activity.
According to Cano, if the estimates are certified, Venezuela could have the largest gold reserve in the world. Something not despicable if you take into account that the country already has the first oil reserve on the planet.
Is it understood now why the United States and its allies are so “concerned” about “democracy and human rights” in this territory?
– Let’s start with the most recent tour that President Maduro made to Russia. How are the bilateral agreements advancing?
- With Russia there are five issues : energy, military, commercial, mining and agri-food. The most recent visit was a preparatory meeting for the High Level Intergovernmental Commission (CIAN) to be held in March 2019 in Moscow. A memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources of Russia, which is our counterpart, has just been signed. It is a fairly comprehensive document that includes everything related to research, training of personnel, certification of our mining reserves and the possibility of working together on the exploitation of minerals.
-How many countries are actively participating in the development of the Orinoco Mining Arc?
- We have talks with South Africa and Angola. Also incipient conversations with Qatar to make investments. A Canadian company, Turkish companies are already participating and there is an important Venezuelan private sector investment. The Russians already have active participation in the oil sector and this document that we sign opens the way for them to also have it in the mining sector.
-How long can it take that this participation becomes effective?
- We hope that in the next CIAN of 2019, we will sign concrete agreements. We are looking for the possibility that ALROSA, which is the company that produces the largest number of diamonds in the world and that has a lot of experience in countries such as Angola and South Africa, participates in the Mining Arc. That would allow us to have a company with a great support in the diamond area. It is a company with a small participation of the Russian Government, but most of its capital is private. There is also the possibility that other Russian companies will be integrated into the exploitation of gold. We have had conversations with GAZPROM, who have a division dedicated to mining.
– We usually focus on the exploitation of gold and diamond, however, I would like to know how the development projects progress in other strategic minerals such as coal and coltan, for example?
- With Rosneft there are conversations so that they acquire Venezuelan coltan, and although in principle it is only a commercial acquisition agreement, it is possible that they may also participate in the production. There is another Russian company, VostokCoal, which is dedicated to the exploitation of coal. They are evaluating the possibility of participating in the extraction of coal in some areas of Venezuela, perhaps in Zulia, Anzoátegui or in Táchira. There is also the institutional cooperation, for example with the Rosnedra Federal Agency, which is the Russian counterpart of our National Institute of Geology and Mining (INGEOMIN), regarding the adaptation of the geological laboratories here in Venezuela. There are other projects that involve the training of personnel at the graduate and post-graduate levels in mining matters. The Russians have great potential for the certification of reserves with geophysical and geological methods, which aims to answer the three key questions. What is it? Where is it located? and How much is there?
-In what other minerals does Venezuela have a competitive advantage that distinguishes it from other countries?
- There is Coltan, Nickel and Feldspar, we could add the phosphate and the same coal. Look at something, coal is not the same everywhere. They are cataloged by their caloric content, that is, the capacity to generate energy. Our coal is called Premium, which has a caloric capacity of the highest in the world. It is one of the most coveted.
– How are the steps to repatriate the gold that we have in foreign Banks progressed?
- That is a job that is being carried out by the Central Bank of Venezuela, together with the Ministry of Finance. Fortunately, President Chávez had the vision to repatriate as much gold as Venezuela had in Switzerland and other countries.
– What is your opinion of the sanctions against Venezuelan gold, imposed by the president of the United States, Donald Trump?
- These are crazy sanctions. Practically what they say is that anyone who markets, works or has a relationship with the exploitation, exploration or marketing of gold in Venezuela is subject to sanctions. This implies that the person and his family, so literally, that trade with Venezuelan gold, might be subject to the sanction. Look what happens against Huawei, that being a Chinese company is judged by the United States, even extraterritorially.
– Does the strategy of establishing relations with Russia, Turkey and China for mining development seek to face such sanctions?
- They are part of that.
– What plans is the Venezuelan government implementing to guarantee the governability of the Orinoco Mining Arc?
- The plans created belong to a strategy of the national government to organize the mining issue. President Chávez had the vision to organize mining activity within our territory. Remember that in Venezuela there has been mining for more than 100 years. The policy of the Orinoco Mining Arc, comes to create a space of the territory to have an organized mining, planned and responsible with the environment. What happened [a few days ago] in Canaima National Park, to which the Minister of Defense has already responded, is part of our policy of eradicating illegal mining and exploitation in non-permitted areas. Those places where mining was being done belong to a National Park, a world heritage site. There is a trend that tries to impose that the national government “decreed mining in Canaima National Park”, nothing is further from the truth.
The Mining Arc is 111 thousand square kilometers and does not include any national park of Venezuela. It goes from the border with the state of Amazonas, to the limits of the Delta Amacuro state. South of the Orinoco and the northern part of the Bolívar state. The demarcation does not touch the Canaima and Caura National Park, the forest reserve of La Paragua, it does not touch the southern protective zone of the Bolívar state. Why? Because we know that the most sensitive ecosystems are the middle and upper river basins that are in that area.
We, as a State, legalize, formalize the miner, give them the legal tools, provide them with scientific-academic training, information on how mining is carried out by applying technologies that have the least impact on the environment. If you [as] Venezuelan, be Pemón or Creole as they say, you want to do mining, we assign spaces for you to do it within the Mining Arc. The Orinoco Mining Arc is a strategy to generate sovereignty of Venezuela in regard to the minerals present in its territory.
– How does the dialogue and agreements with the indigenous peoples found in the Orinoco Mining Arc progress?
- We have today delivered 551 alliances with small-scale miners, which includes Creoles and Indians, who work in mining and have been delivered within the demarcated areas of the Mining Arc. Areas that are specially designed for this practice and that meet the following characteristics: they have presence of the mineral, it is not a sacred place for the indigenous peoples, it is not an area of environmental protection.
– Are these agreements worked in conjunction with the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples?
- Constantly, permanently and continuously. There is no permit for mining exploitation within an indigenous territory, which is not previously consulted. In fact, in the area of Los Pijiguaos, we signed, in mid-2018, seven strategic alliances and four joint ventures for the exploration and exploitation of Coltan. Until three weeks ago, we were still discussing with the indigenous peoples Mapoyo, Pumé, Wottuja and the companies involved in the project. And we already have the authorization of these peoples to do the exploration and exploitation of the Coltan. If these people had said that they did not want, that it was not convenient or that a sacred territory was being touched, we would not have been able to continue in the project.
– What are the ways to adapt the mining development plans with, for example, the demarcation of the indigenous territories?
- We always cross territories to avoid violating the rights of indigenous peoples. However, we must clarify that these territories are not separate from Venezuelan territory, but have laws and rules additional to those we have at the national level. Therefore, agreements must be reached in order to carry out a mining activity that respects said indigenous laws. If, for example, there is a sacred or important site for your culture, we can not do mining within that area. Because mining leaves a mark, like any human activity. If we could go back in time and go to the year 1500, we could see in the Valley of Caracas how many trees we cut, how many drainages were moved, how many streams were contaminated to make the city we have today. What we are looking for with the mining activity, is that this impact is the least possible in the environment and that it has the greatest positive impact in terms of social welfare.
– When you think about mining, you usually look directly at the south of Venezuela, However, when we see a geological map we realize that the whole country has potential for mining development. I say this, because a few months ago the creation of a regional company for the exploitation of gold in the state of Carabobo was signed. How do you prevent the Carabobo state from becoming a large mine? How do you prevent illegal mining from exceeding the capabilities of the state?
- We can not allow that any Venezuelan state suffers what the southern part of Venezuela has. A historical debt, where the situation was not address for many decades, resulted in a social problem. In Carabobo and in Cojedes, there was the appearance of the gold ore, what we are doing is the ordering of that territory, not allowing mining where it is not due. There is a national monument that is the Carabobo Field, for example, we are not going to allow mining there. It is working together with the governors of Carabobo and Cojedes, for the organization of the miners who are there for the registration and the delimitation of the spaces allowed for the activity.
– Is there certification of the reserves that are there?
- Not yet. In fact, no geological map showed that there was gold there. In addition, the geological conditions are such that the amount of gold should not be too high. However, there is evidence of the presence of the mineral, but nothing compared to the south of the country. Only in area four of the Orinoco Mining Arc, we are estimating that there are 8 thousand tons of inferred gold. We have certified 2,300 tons of those 8 thousand. That would place us as the second gold reserve in the world, but we could be the first.
– Who is certifying those reserves?
- The certification is done through several methods and some companies like the SRK. They are certifiers whose majority are in London. Now, how can we certify as a country? Well, we have to do rigorous studies in geology to take the sample and estimate the gold reserves.
– Is there an estimated date to give accurate information?
- Certifying the Orinoco oil belt took five years. We are still in the first year, in the phase of “inferred resources”. We have to increase knowledge and geological trust, that is achieved through field work, drilling, improving laboratories. So we would move to the “indicated resources” and then to “measured resources”. If we already have the indicated resources, we can place them as probable reserves and that is already a legal parameter. Now, if I have them measured, they become “proven reserves,” which count as an asset of the nation, just as in the case of oil.
Translated by JRE