An Ethical Minefield

Taking one last look at the well-stocked shelves of the Antino shop where a simple pack of cornflakes costs just under a gramme of gold or a bottle of Whisky will cost you four, it’s so clear who the real winners in this game are. The Garimpieros toil day-in-day-out relentlessly scouring the earth locked into the primary world of commerce that is gold mining territory. Knee-deep in mud or blasting the banks with water-jets, sieving sediment on rickety sluices, or meticulously panning for every last grain of gold, their hard-won gains are easily lost on the inflated prices of imported goods, and even easier in the surreally situated, colourfully-lit brothels that pump out angry rap from the heart of the forest. It's an edgy micro-world for them but although they are commonly called the mules of this work, they are also the masters of endurance. Spending months or years in shanty-built camps they even bring their own satellites to while away long evenings watching absurdly dramatic Brazilian soaps on flickering TV sets. Unfortunately though, as illegal immigrants their presence, and all this activity, seems to lend little to the much needed social infrastructure to the interior of this country, other than the few local individuals that come and go.

So this morning , having spent the whole of yesterday in the grips of "gold fever", totally in awe at the whole process, we asked Henk and his foreman Gio to further clarify their position in an industry that is fraught with problems. In researching the 'mining issue' we were led to believe that Henk was quite a well-known figure in the recent developments of the mining industry in Suriname. As an advisor/consultant to the large scale explorative effort of Gold Star (a Canadian Company) he was mixed up with the mistakes made in the Nieuw Koffiecamp saga. Nieuw Koffiecamp is a transmigration village for the reluctant re-location of the Saramacca community. Having been re-settled after the building of the dam that created Brokopondo Lake, that was built to power the Bauxite industry, they were then beset with the new and equally depressing reality of their land rights being sold to outsiders without them being consulted. As a man from the city, Henk is a savvy businessman and sees the future development of Suriname 'as a whole' not necessarily partial to the conservation principles that we are sensitive to. Sadly that development has often been at the expense of the forest peoples who have little or no land-rights. The conflicts of interest in Nieuw Koffiecamp are still alive and we will be looking into them in more detail when we visit in the coming days. Ironically Gio, 'The Sheriff' - Henk's right-hand-man - is from Nieuw Koffiecamp, and was one of the locals spearheading resistance to the sell-out of his homelands. When asked how he came to be working in Antino with Henk, he frankly stated "If you can't beat them, join them ... to beat them". As shrewd as his boss, at least he is empowering himself with knowledge that could help him and his people take more control of their own destiny.

Thanking Henk for his hospitality and eye-opening tour of his concession we jumped on the back of Gio's ATV for the last hair-raising, arse-numbing ride, speeding along the roller coaster jungle tracks back to the river. Arriving exhilarated, shaken and splattered with mud we gave him hearty handshakes, thanked him for sharing a glimpse of his wild world with us, and then jumped into our waiting boat.

Arriving late in the afternoon at the Wayana village of Kwamahaken with Anthropologist Karin Boven, our reception was jubilant. None of the usual reticence of riverside Indian communities, Karin, having lived with the Wayana here for three years, was the perfect introduction. The warm greetings were unanimous, but somewhat helped by the copious amounts of Kasiri beer being drunk in celebration of Keti Koti, or emancipation day. Here we look forward to hearing how this community is dealing with the effects of gold mining on its doorstep. I hope their hangovers aren't too serious...!



"The Real Winners"

Henk Naarendorp

Riding Shotgun


LINKS - Gold Star in Saramacca
LINKS - History
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