Bordering the north of Brazil, three relative small countries are located in the Guiana Shield: French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana. These countries are rich in gold and constitute an interesting regional case for comparing different policies on small-scale gold mining and cross-border mining dynamics. We take a look at the consequent flow of people and goods.
In the early 1990s, the Federal Government of Brazil banned all mining activities in indigenous areas, especially in the Northern Amazon. Many small-scale gold miners left for neighboring countries to try their fortune there, most illegally crossing the national borders. Brazilian gold miners, ‘garimpeiros’, introduced their mining techniques in the Guianas.
In French Guiana, undocumented garimpeiros were -and still are- faced with gendarmes. In Suriname, many Brazilians succeeded in striking a deal with Surinamese mining title holders. The mining techniques and working systems introduced by garimpeiros were soon adopted by the Maroon miners, in whose traditional territory most of the mineral deposits were found. Nowadays, an estimated 65 to 75 percent of the persons working in the gold fields of Suriname are migrants, mostly from Brazil.
Also in Guyana, many Brazilians operate gold mines. In 1989 a new government regulation stipulated that concessions for small and medium scale mines were only to be given to Guyanese citizens. But in the new century, foreign investment and part ownership in these mines are accepted and even encouraged. Many dredges are wholly or partly owned by Brazilians.
The gold market in Suriname is attractive for neighboring Guyana and French Guiana. Suriname demands only one percent royalty on gold sales, while the Guyanese government asks for seven percent in royalties and taxes. This makes smuggling attractive.
Since a few years, some initiatives have been developed to collaborate across borders in the fight against illegal gold mining and smuggling of gold and mercury. However, collaboration has up to today been minimal and generated few concrete results.