STINASU Director held over Brownsberg destruction

PARAMARIBO, Suriname—Authorities don’t joke around with people out to harm and profit unlawfully from the environment … or so it seems. Police have arrested the Director of the Government owned Foundation for Nature Management Suriname STINASU on suspicions of accepting bribes from the gold miners who penetrated the Brownsberg nature park that was under his care. Frans Kasantaroeno allegedly got paid in gold by gold miners to illegally explore park grounds. He has so far denied the allegations.

Brownsberg nature reserve is located in District Brokopondo, at a two-hour drive southward from Paramaribo. STINASU is charged with monitoring this 12,200 ha protected area, but with Suriname’s hinterland under the spell of a destructive gold rush, small miners have no restraints. Pictures released last month show that the pristine nature of the park is being destroyed; more than 2500 small gold miners were caught in March mining within the borders of the protected park; large parcels of pristine forest had been destroyed in their wake.

Police investigations into their unlawful entry, lead to STINASU Director Kasantaroeno, who has so far insisted that he is innocent. The gold miners however have declared that they paid in gold for permission to conduct mining activities in the area. The Minister of Natural Resources suspended the Director last month and police arrested him on Tuesday. The Manager of the Brownsberg facilities was also arrested.

A study conducted by the World Wildlife Fund unearthed dozens of active mining pits; the fund immediately stopped funding for STINASU, suspecting that the gold diggers had received permission from this foundation that actually is supposed to protect nature.

The foundation had reacted upset. “Brownsberg Nature Park has always been considered a model for Green Economy dynamics: a place where unique biodiversity could be enjoyed and preserved through tourism. The Park (IUCN category II Protected Area) is one of Suriname’s icon Parks and internationally renowned for its unique biodiversity. Each year tens of thousands of national and international visitors enjoy the famous falls in the Park, some of which now lay only a few meters away from the gold mining activities. Small scale miners in the Guianas are notorious for their wide scale and largely unmanaged use of mercury, an element which is readily dispersed and absorbed into the environment, most notably soil, water, and sediment, thus severely threatening nearby streams and rivers,” WWF stated in a release.

The release hinted that WWF Guiana’s since 1999 invested more than a million US dollars in the Park infrastructure and management. “However, despite this investment, destruction of the Brownsberg Nature Park has been steadily progressing since 2007. WWF Guianas has been acutely aware of this and has repeatedly been alerting the Government of Suriname of this,” it said. It said it would conduct mercury tests in two of the most popular waterfalls within the park. Results of the tests will be available soon.