HomeNewsDestructive Gold Mining Plagues Suriname, French Guiana Border

Destructive Gold Mining Plagues Suriname, French Guiana Border


Large-scale illegal gold mining is operating in plain sight on the Lawa River, a natural border between French Guiana and Suriname, despite public efforts from both governments to end the environmentally destructive practice. 

Photographs obtained by InSight Crime show at least six gold dredgers, or skalians, as they're known in Suriname, operating on the river earlier in May.

Illegal mining operations have garnered widespread condemnation for the environmental degradation they cause in both Suriname and French Guiana

SEE ALSO: Dirty Business - The Smuggling Pipeline Carrying Mercury Across the Amazon

The use of the heavy metal, mercury, which binds to gold, is especially detrimental. Runoff mercury pollutes the river and its populations of fish, damaging an important source of food for local indigenous communities, local media have reported.

Mining dredgers on the Lawa River. Credit: ProBios

According to Starnieuws, a local news website, the Surinamese government has acknowledged the presence of these dredgers on the river and pledged to take action to get rid of them. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The presence of dredgers in the area is nothing new, but their continued operation despite the clear detrimental impact on the local environment raises questions about the political will from either side of the river to curb illegal gold mining.

Dredgers are commonly used in South America for river gold mining, particularly in illegal zones, because of the relative ease for operators to move quickly and relocate should authorities crack down on them. 

Erlan Sleur, an environmental expert and founder of the nongovernmental organization ProBios, which is dedicated to protecting Suriname’s biodiversity, told InSight Crime that this is exactly what the miners photographed in May have been doing. 

“From the photographs, it seems they have been working for a long time already. If you see the destruction in the forest on the riverside, it’s clear that this isn’t a recent activity,” Sleur said.

Mining dredges on the Lawa River. Credit: ProBios

Despite the presence of French and Surinamese military on the river, miners have not been captured nor had their dredgers and equipment seized.

According to Sleur, the security forces’ inaction is due to a lack of political will and a tense relationship between the two governments when it comes to the border. 

“There have been some tensions especially when the French police and the army seized some [dredgers] about five years ago,” stated Sleur, in reference to military operations conducted by the French government to seize and destroy gold mining dredgers on territory claimed by Suriname.

Border delineation issues on the Lawa Rivers, as well as Maroni River, were officially resolved last year. This should have paved the way for a tougher stance on illegal mining by both governments. Yet Sleur contends that the Surinamese government remains an obstacle to completely erasing illegal mining on the river.

“I know my government is corrupt. They are part of the problem, as many people within the government are stakeholders within these activities,” claimed Sleur. 

SEE ALSO: Corruption, Cocaine and Gold - The Trials Facing Suriname's New President

The Surinamese government, headed by President Chan Santokhi certainly inherited a challenging situation. It is a coalition government whose vice president, Ronnie Brunswijk, is a convicted drug trafficker and fugitive from Interpol. Before being elected, Brunswijk had at least six gold concessions, though these have now been handed over to a foundation. One Dutch reporter claimed these concessions had been illegally acquired.

Thus the ties between the government and gold mining in the country, rife under former president and convicted murderer, Dési Bouterse, remain today. During Bouterse’s reign, even the mint house was connected to illegal gold mining activity, according to a report by IBI Consultants.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

BOLIVIA / 8 NOV 2022

The Amazon is being plundered at an accelerating rate. Deforesters across Bolivia and Ecuador are emboldened to clear trees for…


From unchecked agricultural development to wildlife trafficking, corruption greases the wheels of every environmental crime in the Peruvian Amazon.


Illegal gold mining is devastating South America's jungles. The trade has been destroying large swaths of forest and flooding rivers…

About InSight Crime


Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…


Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…


Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…


Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…


InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…