Caura National Park in the Venezuelan Amazon sounds like a great idea — 29,000 square miles of rain forest set aside in perpetuity.
But there’s a catch — its legal declaration in 2017 was preceded a year prior by the government’s establishment of the Orinoco Mining Arc, a vast area now open to gold mining, that borders the park.
El Caura, the traditional name for the entire region, is inhabited by indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan groups now threatened by the cultural and economic effects of mining as well as the incursion of illegal miners.
Local communities are working with advocacy groups to monitor and protect the park, continue to practice sustainable agroforestry, market certain forest products internationally, and perhaps most critical for their continued cultural survival, peacefully resolve disputes with their new neighbors in the rough-and-tumble mining encampments.
Looming in the background is the lack of clarity over their rights to continue their own economic activities inside the park that has been set aside for biodiversity, in the context of a collapsing national economy that will likely spur increasing pressure on the region.