Guyana: What is Operation Harpy?

While the Brazilian said that Brabo had been sentenced by the Brazilian judiciary to 130 years in prison for killing two French soldiers of Operation Harpy in 2012, soldiers in Guyana are fighting illegal gold mining every day. Take a look at this military operation taking place in France.

Launched in 2008 by Nicolas Sarkozy, Operation Harpy aims to combat illegal gold mining in Guyana, a real environmental and security issue. Under the leadership of the Guyana Armed Forces and the National Gendarmerie, 350 helicopter and aircraft soldiers are constantly being mobilized in this context. Mobilization, which can go up to 1,000 soldiers if needed. It must be said that many people are needed to cover more than 80,000 km of territory, which consists almost exclusively of equatorial forest.

With its resources, including gold, Guyana attracts Garimpeiro, gold diggers from neighboring Suriname and Brazil. Only gold mining is illegal, and these “harimpeiro” extract gold in a very harmful way. Indeed, the latter use mercury in quantities. This metal, which is used for amalgamation of gold, is toxic not only to people who inhale vapors, but even more so to soils and waterways, polluting, in particular, animal species, as well as Indians living in these remote places.

Thousands of illegal gold miners are shamelessly destroying thousands of hectares of forest to create mining facilities. In Guyana, between 2003 and 2019, 29,000 hectares of forest were destroyed solely through gold mining, including legal transactions. On the other hand, the latter are obliged to restore the facility after its operation. In other words, to restore vegetation.

But illegal gold mining is not only harmful to the environment. It also leads to arms, drugs and the very important black market, which concerns everything that allows, in particular, the operation of a gold mining company. And we must not forget that the Harimpeiro are underground workers who entered the territory illegally.

Therefore, to protect the largest department in France, Nicolas Sarkozy, the then President of the Republic, ordered Operation Harpy to put an end to illegal gold mining, thus protecting the Guyana Forest.

In 2018 alone, 1,323 patrols were carried out, 765 underground facilities were dismantled and equipment and assets worth € 26 million were seized. Withdrawals, which increased by 81% compared to 2017. To achieve this result, the personnel involved in the operation, in addition to existing facilities, are also aimed at logistics networks “Harimpeiros”. This leads, in particular, to the establishment of river dams, which hinders the supply of materials and food to illegal workers, limiting with de factosecret gold mining.

Thus, “Harpy” is an inter-ministerial and joint operation, which, according to the report of the Commission of the National Assembly to investigate the fight against illegal gold mining in French Guiana from July 2021, turned out to be “success that stops the growth of illegal gold mining “before specifying “without destroying it “.

The strategy to combat illegal gold mining, reinforced by Harpie II in 2018, which intensifies the repressive aspect of the operation and which unites the various authorities into one, as explained by Foreign Minister Sebastian Lecornu: “Agents from the Amazon Park of Guyana, jurors from the French Biodiversity Authority (OFB) and local courts have been linked to the proven security forces and the armed forces. Various combat headquarters merged under the leadership of the prefect..

In fact, in 2020, despite the Covid-19 crisis, the increase is evident, 3,000 patrols were conducted. They seized 23.7 million euros, including 4.9 kg of gold, 196 kg of mercury, 280,000 liters of fuel and 165 canoes. An operation that can stop all this movement, but is dangerous for the soldiers who conduct it.

Since its launch, nine soldiers have died in Operation Harpy. Some by accident. But in 2012, an ambush of illegal gold miners was staged in the Dorlin region, 150 km southwest of Cayenne. Ensign Stefan Moralia, 28, and Corporal Sebastian Pisso, 33, both in the 9th Marine Regiment, were killed in the ambush.

It is in this context that the federal prosecutor’s office of Amapa, a Brazilian region bordering Guyana, recently sentenced Brazilian Ronaldo Lima, known as “Brabo”, to 130 years in prison. As for the leader of the alleged gang that staged the ambush, Manoel Ferreira, known as “Manoelzinho”, he died earlier this year in hospital, in court.

Most recently, in July 2019, three soldiers of the 19th Engineering Regiment died from toxic fumes in the gallery, which they were going to destroy. This briefly shows how dangerous these operations are for the Harimpeiro itself. These are the latest deaths from this operation, which continues today.

Despite all these efforts, illegal gold mining in Guyana continues, according to the Commission of Inquiry of the National Assembly, the department produces 10 to 12 tons of gold annually. The approximate amount is from 500 to 750 million euros. This may explain the violence, but also the recklessness of secret gold artists.

In early February 2022, customs stored on the pontoon of the operational base of Saint-Jean-du-Maroni two canoes, which she seized earlier. But the next night the Harimpeiro came to restore their equipment as part of an operation similar to a real special operation. Quickly approaching the canoe pontoon, the men jumped on it, cutting the mooring ropes and grabbing the canoe, leaving it with them without being caught. It seems that the fight against illegal gold mining in Guyana and Operation Harpy is far from over.

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