McGill Research Group Investigating
Canadian Mining in Latin America


Key Data

Population:491,989 people Area:163,821 km2 Density:3 people / km2 Demographics:East Indian - 37%
Creole (mixed white and black) - 31%
Javanese - 15%
Maroon - 8%
Chinese - 8%
White - 5%
Amerindian - 2%
Mineral Resources:silver, gold, zinc, bauxite GDP:$33.0 billion GDP per capita:$67,074 GINI:52.88


Maroons played a crucial role in the gold industry around the turn of the century by providing transportation into the interior, (Kambel & MacKay, 101).

Gold has been mined in the south and east since the 1850s, (Encyclopedia of Nations).

Role of mining within national history: Suriname was one of the wealthiest countries in South America nearly 30 years ago, but military dictatorship, civil war, declining bauxite prices (the leading export), and the suspension of Dutch aid caused considerable economic problems. The government has sold vast areas of the rainforest to multinational corporations to finance its foreign debt and stimulate economic growth, (Rolbin-Ghanie). The gold industry employs over 15,000 people, (Encyclopedia of Nations).

In Brokopondo district, approximately 6000 Saramaka and Ndjuka Maroons were forced off their land in 1963-64 to make way for a hydroelectric dam and a reservoir constructed to power a bauxite refinery operated by Suralco. The reservoir flooded almost half of Saramaka territory. The communities were paid $3 in compensation and were not provided with secure land rights in their new areas.

Almost entirely covered in rainforest, (Rolbin-Ghanie).
Nearly one in five people is indigenous or tribal (Maroon)
Most of the population inhabits the coast, with indigenous and tribal people occupying the mineral-rich interior

Mining Characteristics

According to Newmont Mining Corp., the Guiana Shield is a highly prospective area for new gold discoveries.

Mineral production has been focused on alumina, bauxite, gold, and petroleum.

The mining industry dominates Suriname’s economy – alumina, gold, and petroleum account for 85% of all exports. As a result, the economy is vulnerable to market fluctuations. Rising mineral prices have fueled pressure from small- and large-scale miners to exploit gold and bauxite deposits. {Illegal mining?}

Suriname has been one of the leading bauxite and alumina producers for over ninety years.


In 2008, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the largest group of tropical biologists, urged the government to ban

According to the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), the largest group of tropical biologists, the Brownsberg, Lely, and Nassau bauxite mountains in the northeast are “home to high levels of biodiversity including endemic species.” [] In 2008, the ATBC requested the government to declare the Nassau and Lely mountains National Protected Areas and ban mining within them. (“Scientists call for ban on mining”)

The Coermotibo and Moengo bauxite mines are operated by Suriname Aluminum Co. (Suralco), the major equity owners of which are Alcoa, Inc. of the U.S. and Alumina Ltd. of Australia. (USGS)

Gross Rosebel has five open pits and three additional ones planned to commence production by 2015. The mining permit is good until 2027. Production is expected to increase. The adjacent Saramacca gold project, a joint venture of Golden Star Resources of Canada and Newmont Mining Corp., of the U.S. until 2010, when Golden Star sold its interest to Newmont for approximately $8 million.

Offshore petroleum deposits have been discovered, (Colchester, 9).

IAMGOLD Corp. of Canada, known as the “main player” in Suriname, holds many significant concessions, (Rolbin-Ghanie). Of seven mines in Africa and North and South America, nearly half of IAMGOLD’s total production is in Suriname (“Rosebel records gold output in Suriname”)

In 1963 Alcoa constructed a hydroelectric dam in Brokopondo Distr. to power its operations, creating one of the largest manmade lakes and displacing thousands of Maroons. Alumina production is energy-intensive; cheap energy was key to the industry’s success.


In 2008, the largest organization of tropical biologists called for the expulsion of illegal gold miners from three ecologically important areas. Small-scale mining has been implicated in “over-hunting of wildlife, deforestation and destruction of riparian habitats, erosion, and mercury pollution in waterways.” (“Scientists call for mining ban”)

At the 2008 meeting of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, the largest organization of tropical biologists called upon the Surinamese government to evict illegal gold miners from three ecologically important areas.

Miners have been blamed for a number of environmental problems including over-hunting of wildlife, deforestation and destruction of riparian habitats, erosion, and mercury pollution in waterways.

Researchers say that the biggest problems are caused by small-scale miners who operate with little regard for the environment, using mercury to amalgamate gold, dredging creeks and rivers, and failing to use tailing ponds to capture mining wastes. Scientists say large-scale operators tend to be more responsive to environmental laws and face closer scrutiny from NGOs. (“Scientists call for mining ban”)


Canadian companies in Suriname (prepared May 31, 2011, by the North-South Institute): [Weitzner, Viviane, “Tipping the Power Balance – Making Free, Prior and Informed Consent Work: Lessons and policy directions from ten years of action research on extractives with Indigenous and Afro-descendent Peoples in the Americas,” (Ottawa: North-South Institute, March 2011): 74-75. http://www.nsi-ins.ca/images/documents/synthesis_english_dec_12_2011_web.pdf.]

Golden Star Resources Ltd.

First Bauxite Corp

IAMGOLD Corporation

LeBoldus Capital Inc.

Macusani Yellowcake Inc.

Malaga Inc.

Mawson Resources Limited (Mawson West Ltd.)

Minera IRL Limited

Network Exploration Ltd.

New Dimension Resources Ltd.

New Oroperu Resources Inc.

Newmont Mining Corporation

Nilam Resources Inc.

Norsemont Mining Inc.

Pan American Silver Corp.

Panoro Minerals Ltd.

Pergerine Metals Ltd.

Plexmar Resources Inc.

Radius Gold Inc.

Redzone Resources Ltd.

Rio Alto Mining Limited (Rio Alto Mining)

Rio Cristal Resources Corporation

Rocmec Mining Inc.

Santa Barbara Resources Limited

Sienna Gold Inc.

Silver Standard Resources Inc.

Silver Wheaton Corp.

Sinchao Metals Corp.

Solid Resources Ltd.

Southern Andes Energy Inc.

Sprott Resource Corp.

St. Elias Mines Ltd.

Strait Gold Corporation

Sulliden Gold Corporation

Tamerlane Ventures

Teck Resources Limited

Tinka Resources Limited

Trevali Resources Corp.

Tumi Resources Limited

Ultra Lithium Inc.

Upper Canyon Minerals Corp.

Vale S.A.

Vena Resources Inc.

Wealth Minerals Ltd.

Zincore Metals Inc.

Reunion Gold Corporation

Sara Creek Gold Corp.

Economic Context

The gold industry employs over 15,000 people, (Encyclopedia of Nations).

The economy has been dominated by exports of gold, oil, and to a lesser extent alumina. Although Suriname’s bauxite is among the richest, the sector, once the backbone of the economy, struggles on account of weak demand for aluminum. GOLD The unregulated informal gold sector is estimated at $1 billion annually. It employs mostly (illegal) Brazilians and Maroons. The state-owned oil company, Staatsolie, reported a gross income of $568 million in 2010 and is in the midst of implementing a $1 billion expansion project. The country’s shortage of affordable energy prevents any major economic expansion, (US Dept. of State).

Unemployment (2004): 9.5% (Wikipedia)
Raw materials as a percentage of exports: Alumina & Gold: – 83% in 2006 (World Bank)
Rice – 10% (Encyclopedia of Nations)
Bananas – 2.5% (Encyclopedia of Nations)
Fish – 7.5 in 1998 (Encyclopedia of Nations)

Political Context

Suriname achieved independence from the Netherlands in 1975. Most of its political parties formed during the autonomy period (beginning in 1951) and were overwhelmingly based on ethnicity. A military coup overthrew the nascent parliamentary democracy in 1980. The United States and the Netherlands suspended economic and military cooperation with the Bouterse regime after a crackdown in 1982. Continuing economic decline elicited increased pressure for change. In 1987 the military agreed to free elections, a new constitution, and civilian government. A devastating Maroon “domestic insurgency” erupted in 1986. The civilian government elected in 1991 elections settled the insurgency with a Peace Accord in 1992. Mass demonstrations protesting poor economic conditions occurred in 1999, (US Dept. of State).

Viviane Weitzner of the North-South Institute says “Suriname is a litmus test for why self-regulating standards don’t work,” and that without legal enforcement there is no guarantee certain basic rights will be upheld, (Rolbin-Ghanie).
Claims of nepotism (“Suriname tribe disappointed over gold concessions”).

The government claims the rights to all “unencumbered” land and any resources beneath it. Maroon Tribal peoples say they have a right to own and control their traditional territory based on sacred treaties with the government that symbolically brought their struggle for freedom to an end in 1863. They view resources and land holistically as intertwined with collective, ancestral, and divine relationships that govern daily life, and make no distinction between surface and subsurface rights. In 2007, Suriname voted in favor of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Previously, land rights of indigenous or Tribal peoples were not legally recognized, (Rolbin-Ghanie).

The only reference in the Mining Decree to Indigenous and Maroon peoples provides that applications for exploration permits must include a list of all tribal communities located in or near the area to be explored. An OAS study on the Rosebel conflict reported this provision is not enforced. No action was taken to investigate and punish GSRL’s omission of Nieuw Koffiekamp in its application for an exploration license, (Kambel & MacKay, 102).

Most mining agreements with multinationals supercede the Mining Decree if there is a conflict between the two, in which case the former are approved by the National Assembly and become a form of primary legislation. Even so, the rudimentary protections of the 1994 Mineral Agreement with GSRL were routinely violated, often with the government’s open support. Agreements made with bauxite companies do not contain any protections, (Kambel and MacKay, 105).

There are currently no laws governing water rights, (IAMGold 2010 Technical Report – Rosebel, 26).

Social Context

Most of the nearly 40,000 Brazilians arrived recently in search of gold, (Encyclopedia of Nations).

Perceived threats to Maroon understandings of political and territorial autonomy are directly linked to fears of a return to the age of slavery, (Rolbin-Ghanie).
At least 75 of the estimated 150 indigenous and Maroon villages are located in or near mining concessions, (Rolbin-Ghanie).
Head Captain Eddie Fonkie of the Abaisa clan of the Saramaka: “Mining has brought very few benefits and many problems. What we need is security. If they mine [in my village] the people in the city and in Canada will benefit and the Saramaka will lose again,” (Rolbin-Ghanie).


Ellen-Rose Kambel and Fergus MacKay, The rights of indigenous peoples and Maroons in Suriname. (The Forest Peoples Programme & IWGIA, 1999): 100-106.

“Scientists call for mining ban, new protected areas in Suriname,” Mongabay.com. 21 Jun. 2008. <http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0618-suriname_mining.html>.

“Suriname – Industry,” Encyclopedia of the Nations. <http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/economies/Americas/Suriname-INDUSTRY.html>.

Alfredo C. Gurmendi, “The Mineral Industries of French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname,” 2010 Minerals Yearbook. U.S. Geological Survey and Dept. of the Interior. Nov. 2011. <http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/country/2010/myb3-2010-gf-gy-ns.pdf>

Timeline of Key Events