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Guyana think tank accuses Canadian mining firms of exploitation, corruption

Published:Sunday | March 3, 2013 | 10:29 AM

WASHINGTON, Mar. 3, CMC – A major think tank here claims that Canadian mining companies not only exploit “large stock of natural resources” in Guyana but they also bring “waves of unwelcomed corruption.”



The heavy interest of foreign multinationals in Guyana’s natural resources is not surprising, as the unstable and corrupt political environment presents an attractive opportunity for foreign firms looking to take advantage of the country’s rotting political and economic institutions,” said the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) in a statement.



“The majority of this corruption is the product of decades-long dependence on foreign capital and restrictive macroeconomic policies, as well as governmental inefficiencies and an ethnically-divided society,” it added.

COHA claimed that alleged corruption in the mining industry is not simply restricted to Guyana’s borders but is also present on Canadian soil.

It pointed to “multiple obstacles foreigners face” in the Canadian legal system, “where it is nearly impossible for foreign citizens to bring lawsuits involving egregious environmental and human rights violations in Canadian courts.



COHA said the majority of foreign allegations brought against Canadian companies have been assigned to the host country’s criminal justice system, “where they are often prosecuted under much more lenient regulatory standards.”



It pointed to a 1997 lawsuit filed by Guyanese villagers against Cambior Corporation regarding the Canadian corporation’s alleged negligence surrounding a dam break disaster along the Omai River. The think tanks said “this catastrophe resulted in mass contamination and fatalities.”



It said the Quebec court refused to hear the case, claiming it did not have jurisdiction, subsequently passing the lawsuit on to the Guyanese judiciary.

COHA said child labor is also a “widespread problem” within the Guyanese mining industry.



Most recently, it said an eight-year-old child was found laboring in a gold mine in the Puruni region, near the Venezuelan border.



“Unfortunately, this shocking case is not unique, as a report issued by the US Department of Labor indicated that more than 44,000 children under the age of 14 are currently working in Guyana, where the legal working age is 15, and many of those under-aged workers can be found in the mines,” COHA said.

COHA pointed to a 2011 US Department of Labor report, which claimed that “commercial exploitation is a problem in Guyana, including instances of forced prostitution.”



COHA said during the last week of January, indigenous groups lost a “crucial court case” filed against mining companies, when Guyanese High Court decided that it does not have the right to expel miners from their lands.

The Council pointed out that in July 2012, Guyana’s Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment announced the suspension of all new mining permits, but did not revoke the old permits.



“This is a clear violation of the 1978 Amerindian Act, which was supposed to return land titles to indigenous groups,” it said.



COHA has called on the Guyanese government to “seriously increase the management oversight of its mining and public sectors.