Poison in the Lifeline
The 1995 Omai Gold Mine Disaster in Guyana, South America
POISON IN THE LIFELINE highlights the events and consequences of the Omai Mine disaster in Guyana (1995 ), tracing the history of the disaster and examining the situation of extractive industries in relation to the 40,000 Amerindian people who live permanently in the interior.
The current thrust towards large scale extractive industries carries very serious and demonstrated perils. The Canadian owned Omai Gold mine in Guyana with an annual production which exceeds a quarter of a million troy ounces of gold yearly, is one of South America’s largest mines.
In August 1995 the dam for the reservoir containing waste material broke sending millions of liters of sludge laced with cyanide (used for gold extraction) into Guyana’s largest river. It was declared the worse mine disaster for the environment in history.
The coordinators of the Guiana Shield Media Project were on the scene and able to document the consequences.
The film also features a discussion about other extractive industries in both Guyana and Suriname.
Extractive expansionism lies at the very heart of present day conflicts in the region.
Extractive industries such as mining and logging, combined with increasing encroachments of market economies, are at the heart of social and cultural change. The human and natural environments of the region are being forced into a position of accommodation. The people of the Guiana Shield confront serious ongoing challenges to their life ways and cultures. The challenges faced by the people living on the front lines of extractive expansionism are by far the most severe and acute.
Extractivism is by no means a new phenomenon in the Guiana Shield region. Indeed, the area has been prospected for precious minerals since the sixteenth century. The colonial history of the region is, in reality, a history of extractive expansionism. However, extractive industries have undergone a significant amplification in the past decade. Societies throughout the region are confronting the reality and consequences of these activities on a larger scale than ever before.
Timber concession grants, many as large as the Netherlands or New Jersey overlap or directly affect Amerindian and tribal lands.
Compensation is minimal and the people from the area where concessions are located often form the labour force for the industries- consequently disturbing and altering the social and economic fabric of the communities.