Venezuela rejoins global anti-‘blood diamonds’ group
Venezuela has rejoined an international pact to curtail the smuggling of conflict diamonds, vowing to resume issuing export certificates to guarantee the minerals are not being used to finance war or violent activity.
The minerals-rich South American country stopped issuing export certificates in 2005 and unilaterally removed itself three years later as an active participant in the Kimberley Process.
The international pact was set up in 2003 to curtail the diamond smuggling that was fueling civil wars in Africa, popularized as “blood diamonds.”
Members of Kimberley met this week in the United Arab Emirates and unanimously agreed to reincorporate the nation, the Venezuelan government said on Friday, in a potential boost to the OPEC country’s struggling economy.
“With this decision … the production and commercialization of Venezuelan diamonds will be devoted to the high standards of quality, solvency and security in world diamond activity,” said a statement from the Mining Ministry.
The news came as crisis-hit Venezuela seeks to stimulate mining investment in its southern, jungle-covered area that is rich in gold and diamonds.
A resumption of legal exports could boost an economy beset with triple-digit inflation and shortages of basic foods that has led to millions of Venezuelans suffering from hunger.
“Venezuela is moving towards economic diversification and the sustained strengthening of its international reserves,” a government statement added.
International reserves are down more than 25 percent in the last year, with the country dependent on oil – whose price has tumbled – for 94 percent of its export revenue.
Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Kimberley’s 2016 chair, visited Venezuela in February in order to expedite the process of readmitting the country.
According to official figures, before 2005 Venezuela was a small diamond exporter, producing just 3,000 carats per month.
However, a Reuters investigation in 2012 showed that diamonds mined deep in the Amazon were being smuggled across borders and given falsified papers, flouting the agreement.
Wildcat mines are still common in the jungle-filled area, and it is unclear if Venezuela has a sustainable plan to reduce their presence.
While Venezuela’s stones are not “blood diamonds” as such, the pact’s founders fear their existence may give other diamond-producing nations, like Zimbabwe, an excuse to turn a blind eye to other violations of the Kimberley pact.
Diamonds from Venezuela
Diamonds were first discovered in Venezuela in 1902. There followed sporadic and limited production from that point until 1913. In 1915, diamondiferous fields were discovered in Rio Paragua and Rio Caroni. The first diamond company was formed, known as Compania Anonima El Pao, which lasted until 1943.
Around 1927, the settlers arrived in Gran Sabana, and by 1930, diamond exploitation had initiated with Brazilian collaboration. While considerable mining activity ensued at the Paratepui and Rio Surukun areas, production was limited. Gradually, additional diamond sites were exploited at the upper Caroni River (Santa Teresa, Agua Negra, Salva La Patria, El Vale, and El Polaco). However, production was limited and inconsistent through 1942.
In 1942, the recovery of a 154-carat diamond crystal, the largest found in Venezuela and known as El Liberdador, created intense interest and a diamond rush followed. That same year, additional diamondiferous areas were discovered at Rio Icabaru, Rio Uaiparu, Guari, and others. In subsequent years still other areas were exploited: In Gran Sabana, Uriman, Capaura, and Avequi in 1943; Cinco Ranchos in 1950; and in the fields at upper Paragua: El Casabe, Manare, Oris, Asa, and Chiguao in 1954.
The introduction of mass mechanized mining operations then dramatically increased the production of Venezuelan diamonds. Diamondiferous areas at the lower Caroni — Caruachi, Playa Blanca, Rio Claro, and Merey – were exploited in 1961. In 1963, the practical gold and diamond method of mechanized barges, known locally as chupadoras, was introduced, which also resulted in a considerable increase in production. In 1968, the rich deposits of San Salvador de Paul and the nearby areas of Rio Parupa were exploited, followed by the most important diamondiferous deposits at Guianiamo in 1970. Guianiamo alone produced 85% of the total gem-quality diamonds mined in Venezuela for the period 1970-1978. During the last decade, diamond production there has risen steadily.
Alluvial diamonds are mined by local workers in small syndicates. The main areas are Santa Elana in the southernmost part of the country on the border with Brazil and the Guaniamo River in Western Venezuela where diamondiferous kimberlite sills were discovered in 1972.
Venezuela “voluntarily” withdrew from the Kimberley Process for two years in 2008 after it was threatened with expulsion. It seems that there has since been little effort made to make changes, as diamond mining and smuggling continue unabated. There have been no official diamond exports from Venezuela for many years despite an active mining sector.