CSG Journal

 May 24, 2012

Travelling with Andy -our VP South American Ops- is never dull. I have had the pleasure a number of times on trips to Colombia and Brazil. Usually, he has everything laid out in a detailed and comprehensive schedule, to which we then, invariably, fail to adhere. This is more due to the unpredictable nature of travel in these parts than it is some shortcoming of Andy. Nonetheless, we often refer to our travel schedules as "Andy-time".

Andy recently returned from his latest trip to Colombia and Brazil. Over the phone the other day, I asked him how it had gone. (This was his first trip back since the Public Audience -- see our April 23, 2012 CSG Journal entry.)

Andy had visited a small village called Bocas del Taraira, which sits on the Brazilian side of the border in the middle of the gold belt. This area is included in the Letter of Intent, which we announced on December 19, 2011. The communities in the area had heard good things about the first aid course we held in the town of Taraira last summer. There was such interest that we decided to arrange a similar course on the Brazilian side.

Speedy vessels are required when attempting to stay on Andy-time.

This time, Andy had an instructor from the Red Cross as well as a snake expert in tow. Together they put on what must have been a very informative and realistic show. The course ended with a simulated emergency situation. Students were told that there had been an accident on the river and everybody rushed out to help. They found themselves at the scene of a horrific (simulated) boating accident. A boat lay upside down on a small island close to the river bank. On the island were seven accident victims in varying stages of distress. Using their newly acquired first aid skills, the students worked to stabilize the wounded in order to transport them back to the village on makeshift stretchers made from local materials. The instructors were pleased with the results. Everything went smoothly. The only hiccup occurred when the Red Cross instructor started behaving erratically, screaming and trying to prevent the victims from being brought to shore. After a few confusing moments, the students recognized that the instructor was displaying typical symptoms of shock. The instructor now became one of their patients and the rescue mission could be brought to a successful conclusion.

Stabilized "victims" of the simulated boating accident at Bocas del Taraira.

The First Aid course, however, was not the sole reason for Andy's trip. Not being very experienced in mining and development, our native Brazilian partners had expressed a desire to hear from their North American cousins about their experiences in these matters. Travelling to Bocas del Taraira with Andy was Chief Shane and elder Ken of the Tk'emlups Indian Band of British Columbia as well as Pete, a Tlingit elder from Alaska. Once the First Aid course was over, the school room had been reserved for the North American natives' presentations.

It has long been Cosigo's stance that poverty - rather than responsible development - is the biggest threat to the environment. When people get hungry or desperate, protecting the environment is rarely a priority. Today this is becoming all too clear in many parts of Latin America. Informal mining has been on the rise during recent years in countries like Bolivia, Peru and Colombia where many people have set out to take advantage of high metal prices in hope of a better tomorrow. Unfortunately, these unlicensed mining activities can have devastating consequences. Forests are ravaged; toxic chemicals are dumped into waterways and the conditions of the mining camps often spread into and destroy the social fabric of the locals through the introduction of alcohol, illicit drugs and prostitution.

With our hosts, Pete, Chief Shane and Ken discussed how development and mining can progress while simultaneously respecting and indeed protecting the environment and local culture. Chief Shane described the experiences of his own people in dealing with mining companies on their traditional lands. Everybody felt that they learned a lot from Chief Shane as he gave advice and warned of the potential pitfalls in negotiating working agreements which benefit all involved.

Ken addressing the listeners in Bocas del Taraira. Andy translates.

Chief Shane with Serafin, a high ranking traditional authority in the area.

Pete, who has experience in the fisheries industry, addressed another big concern of the locals in our project area. Currently, there is a food crisis caused by a dwindling amount of fish in the rivers. The fish are fewer and smaller than only a few years ago. Pete mentioned having lived through a similar situation in Alaska. When net-fishing in rivers, nets often get caught by floating wood or snagged on jagged rocks - and they can't be retrieved. In this situation some Alaskan fishermen would simply cut them off leaving large portions of the net in the water. The Alaskans were using nets made from plastic monofilament. These nets are cheap and widely used throughout the world, including in the rivers of the Taraira area. The problem with plastic monofilament nets is that they do not decompose. Instead, the nets keep fishing forever like "ghost-fishermen". The ghost-fishermen end up gathering in eddies where they can sometimes block the whole river from bank to bank. In Alaska, Pete said, the native tribes got together and pulled up the old nets from the river using grapple hooks. He described how one of the nets they retrieved had thousands of dead fish in it with almost every hole in the net filled by a fish skeleton. They also switched to using bio-degradable nets to avoid creating new ghost-fishermen. Pete told the audience that the cleanup project resulted in a doubling of the fish population in just two years.

Many of the Brazilian natives grew quite emotional listening to Pete sharing his experiences. They too have been using plastic nets and they too simply cut them off when they get stuck. They never realized the nets might keep fishing. They quickly identified a few locations where ghost-fishermen may be gathering in eddies and are discussing a test to see if the ghosts can be retrieved.

Pete presenting the native leader of Northwest Amazonas with a ceremonial eagle claw carved out of copper.

The meeting between the Brazilian natives and their North American cousins was successful and Cosigo was commended for making it happen. Important issues were touched on, among them the need for responsible formal mining and development projects, the need to combat poverty and the need for employment and other economic opportunities. In addition, there is now real hope that there is a simple solution to the problem of their dwindling fish populations. One of the Brazilian elders said: "Funny that it should be a mining company to get issues like this taken seriously."

Chief Shane, Ken and Pete went on to travel with Andy and his team for another few days visiting government ministries and departments in both Bogota and Brasilia. Judging from their smiling faces in the photos I have seen, they seem to be handling Andy-time quite well.