A slow crime: Situation of vulnerable groups in the face of mercury pollution in the Venezuelan Amazon


Mercury is a neurotoxin that can have serious effects on people and the environment. Globally, the main source of mercury pollution comes from its use in small and medium-scale gold mining activities. In Venezuela, this form of pollution is posing a serious risk to the populations living in the Venezuelan Amazon, especially the most vulnerable.

In this context, the purpose of this report is to describe the violations of the human rights of children, women, indigenous people and workers as a result of mercury poisoning derived from gold extraction activities in the south of the country.

One of the sources of information employed for this work was a survey conducted among key informants. Most of them consider that the use of mercury is widespread in the region, this metal is relatively easy to obtain and different sources are available to obtain it. The respondents also report having observed possible cases of mercury poisoning and consider that not enough efforts are being made to control mercury flows, educate populations at risk, and care for the affected.

On the other hand, a triangulation of the available information was carried out to determine the extent of mercury pollution. This method allowed the identification of areas with high levels of pollution, consisting of a group of 6 seriously affected areas and a group of five critical areas where information is insufficient.

There is clear evidence that this form of pollution is seriously affecting children and adolescents, women, indigenous communities and workers in the region, despite international agreements and national legislation oblige States to protect them against this type of pollution.

These results help to highlight the major issues that influence this problem:

  • Major information gaps exist in all aspects related to the topic of mercury pollution in Venezuela. Part of this problem arises from the Venezuelan government’s policy of opacity.
  • A lack of effective responses to the serious problem posed by mercury pollution can be observed, despite the existence of a Decree prohibiting the possession and use of mercury in Venezuela. On the other hand, the Venezuelan State has yet to ratify the Minamata Convention, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury.
  • Even despite the scarce information, the effects of mercury pollution must be considered a form of violence against the population.

In conclusion, the Venezuelan State is committing serious violations of the human rights of the residents of the Venezuelan Amazon by allowing, concealing and in some cases promoting mercury pollution and failing to protect the population against its effects.

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