Runaway gold prices spark murders, robberies

Last week, Charles DaSilva, head of the umbrella Gold and Diamond Miners Association was attacked, chopped with a machete and robbed by bandits of a decent-sized gold chain as he went for his early morning stroll on the Atlantic sea shore. It was the latest incident in a string of high-profile robberies that Guyanese authorities are linking to runaway prices for gold on the world market.

DaSilva had to be hospitalized after the brazen attack by two men in a car but the miners association used the opportunity to raise public awareness about an increase in attacks on miners and jewelers across the country that they say has everything to do with the increased value of the metal.

In recent years, the price of gold on the world market has surged to record levels, closing last Friday at around $1,550 per ounce. The surge that economists across the gold directly link to the global economic crisis and the use of gold as a credible store of value has triggered billions in investments across the globe.

In Guyana, heavy duty excavating machines that normally sell for $200,000 (G$40M) are rolling out of warehouses in record numbers, headed for the western and northern Amazonian jungles as people abandon professions like engineering, agronomy and academia to invest in gold because of current prices.

But for people like Police Interior Commander David Ramnarine, the increased activity has provided major headaches for law enforcement as cops are probing 11 ‘gold bush brawling’ murders up to the end of April — thrice the number they investigate on average in years before the current gold shout.

Ramnarine also says that criminals are also taking to the mosquito-ridden jungle in unprecedented numbers to “case out” mining operations and to set the stage for attacks on camps by gangs.

“There is a direct correlation between the price of gold and what we have to deal with these days,” he said of the upsurge in crime in interior sub divisions.

As an indication of the level of activity in the country’s number-one sector, association Executive Secretary Tony Shields is retiring after nearly three decades to himself set up operations in the “bush.”

“It is time I make some money for myself as everybody else is doing,” he said last weekend.

Skilled excavator operators, Shields says, now earn up to US$7,500 in monthly salaries and ordinary miners simply panning for gold could rake in up to $300 daily with four pennyweights of gold.

Gold has long surpassed sugar as the number-one export, yielding nearly $400M for the national treasury last year.

More than a dozen Canadian companies are now readying huge mines in the north and west near Venezuela, not the least of them being Toronto-based Guyana Goldfields which recently announced that it has a monster mine with a minimum of seven million ounces of gold that it should begin exporting from in the next 18 months.

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