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Gold prices trigger murder, disorder in Guyana jungle

Twenty six murders, numerous armed robberies and increasing incidents of disorderly behavior are proving to be major headaches for law enforcement and other authorities, as record world prices for gold trigger a rush of money, manpower and machines to the jungles of this South American nation that is also headquarters to the 15-nation Caribbean Community.

Police Chief Henry Greene said last weekend that there is a “direct link” between surging gold prices and the 26 murders detectives are investigating in goldfields near Venezuela and Brazil this year.

Countless machete and other fights have ensued over small amounts of gold and “increased drinking and sporting activities” near boat landings in the country’s gold-rich Amazonian jungles as millions of dollars circulate in the ‘gold bush.’

“It is all related and has a lot to do with the price. A lot more people than normal are going to the interior as there is a lot of money in gold right now,” he said a day after a miner was shot and killed and his son beaten senseless and buried alive with the help of an excavator.

Police are also checking reports that the excavator operator was forced to bury the wounded miner at gunpoint. Gold closed at $1,827 per troy ounce amid predictions prices will reach $2,000 by year end.

Police are searching for a six-man gang suspected of killing the two from a coastal village 18 miles from the city.

Two years ago, interior police battled to solve no more than an average of eight murders annually, many liked to overexuberance from vodka and rum-induced disagreements in mining camps or from theft of ration and equipment.

Today the situation has changed to such an extent that police now patrol the jungles in all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), are setting up check points in areas with gold shouts and are building new stations mostly in the western interior near Venezuela.

Greene said a new station is being built at Arranka in the sometimes volatile western Cuyuni Region where numerous Canadian companies are exploring for gold.

One of them, Toronto-based Guyana Goldfields earlier this year announced that one of three mines it is exploring will yield at least seven million ounces when actual mining begins in about a year. Most of the other fellow Canadian and American explorers say they are on course to find similar sized mines after signing agreements with authorities to pay taxes at gold prices pegged at less than $300 per ounce at the time of signing. Huge financial windfalls await these companies.

The mounting prices have also attracted wildcat and big investors from neighboring Brazil. Authorities estimate that there are at least 15,000 Brazilians working the interior. At least five have been killed so far this year in goldfields mostly as a result of robberies. A similar number was slain last year.

Like neighboring Suriname, gold has now surpassed all other sectors as the leading foreign exchange industry for countries so blessed with that resource.

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