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Remember Disney’s first full length animation feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? The dwarfs sang a song, ‘Heigh ho’, while out mining diamonds. It goes……

“We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig from early morn till night

We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig up everything in sight

We dig up diamonds by the score

A thousand rubies, sometimes more

But we don’t know what we dig ’em for

We dig dig dig a-dig dig…………..”

And thus while the logic behind excessive gold mining is obscure to me, the rationale behind the ethics of the processes employed in the mining of gold in Guyana, eludes me even more

The purchasing power of an ounce of gold, for a citizen of the Roman Empire in 1 AD was it could buy him a few essentials, a set of clothes and sandals; well it buys roughly the same amount of supplies now.

So, the rush to retrieve all of it from the earth’s bowels and then hoard it above ground, (a feat accomplished through large sums of tax payers’ money, as in the case of the US Federal reserve) is food for thought.

But I am much less concerned with the insurance value of gold, its ability to back currency and so on and so forth. What interests me at this point is that currently Guyana still uses the cyanide leaching method of gold extraction.

In August 1995, more than one billion gallons of cyanide laced waste waters were released into a tributary of the Essequibo by a mining company called the Omai, run by Golden Star Resources of Denver and Cambior of Montreal. The mine is revealed to have reported the spill six days after the incident. The effects include poisoning of the floodplains, the poisoning of aquatic life as well as of drinking water. The Guyanese government had a 5% stake in the Omai venture. Despite the magnitude of the incident, mining concessions continued to be granted on the river after.

Cyanide is a toxic compound. To prevent it from leaching into the environment, mining activity using cyanide needs to be monitored effectively and mining regulations enforced. 7 years into the incident and no damages were awarded to the people living in the areas affected. The recent news though, is that the government has stopped awarding mining permits along riverine environments in an attempt to assess damage from gold mining in the area.

Among recent events the government mining regulatory body as well as the Guyana Gold and Diamond Miners Association (GGDMA) and major manganese firm operating on Guyanese soil have objected to the absolute extension of Amerindians lands. The GGDMA’s formal letter of protest to the UNDP contends that they are opposed to 35% of land in Guyana being made available to people who represent only 10% of the population of Guyana.

A Merrill Lynch study in 2010 highlighted that 1% of the Irish population controlled and owned 34% of all wealth in the country. This being the case of wealth distribution in most countries, the logic of the above argument eludes me as well.

So this is food for thought as we ponder about the ethics of mining gold in Guyana and elsewhere.