Six Thousandths of Gold to Connect to the Internet in Canaima

"Canaima de carne y huesos", a recently published book by Jesús Piñero and Valeria Pedicini, tells the story of human rights violations in Canaima National Park.

This is a translated excerpt from “Canaima de carne y huesos”, a recently published book by Jesús Piñero and Valeria Pedicini. The book, edited by Editorial Dahbar, tells the story of human rights violations in Canaima National Park -a UNESCO World Heritage Site- through the stories of ten women.

Sitting under a small lemon tree in the patio of her house, a vestige of that conuco that she had to improvise with her family during the pandemic to be able to survive the lack of tourists, Diana Bigott attends most of her clients, the residents of Canaima who want to connect to the Internet for different reasons.

“Give me an hour, please,” says one of them, while taking out a small paper package that wraps some valuable and tiny grains: they are six thousandths of gold.

Diana brings them up to her eyes, checks them, and when she confirms that they are real, she orders someone in the house to enable a username and password for one hour.

She is one of the few Internet providers in Canaima, where two of the three telephone lines in Venezuela have no signal and the only way to stay connected is through the satellite connection, thanks to some huge solar panels that Diana has on the roof of your house, her current biggest investment. Thanks to that, when the power goes out, she is one of the few that can continue working normally.

The idea came to her while she was working in one of the camps and she had to oversee communications when there was an emergency, such as a snake bite and the urgent search for antivenom serum, as happened to her once. That need to stay connected and aware of what was happening led her not only to understand the importance of being in contact with the outside world, but also to get to know the Internet service provider companies hired by the different camps.

The investment has allowed her to overcome the economic asphyxiation of recent years, since people always need to communicate with people outside of Canaima and require their services. The minimum value of that contact is 6 thousandths of gold, equivalent to 2 US dollars, since the gram rounds 40.

“I live from that, not as well as I would like, but better than in those years of 2017 and 2018, when there was nothing and we had to improvise with the conuco. Those years were horrible, many people were forced to go work in the mines, but that is a dangerous job, very risky, and even more so for us women. The best thing for me was to stay calm and see how we resolved it here. I have a child, who in a few years will be a teenager and I want to keep an eye on his growth, right now he is learning English and studying,” he says.

Life in the town also had its risks. May you and yours go hungry, for example. That you can’t keep them.

Diana’s resolve was the conuco. There weren’t many more options, tourism also decreased in those years. They planted little but enough to exchange it for more food: if they brought her cassava, she would give a kilo of rice. If it was enough, she would hand a chicken.

There was also indiscriminate hunting of animals and fishing, but that was in the jungle, in the upper Carrao, because there are none in the town. The CLAP bags that the government delivered never arrived; they didn’t ask about them either. And so, they managed to get ahead. Together, little by little. Sounds difficult? It’s one thing to say it and another to live it, says Diana.

Still, Diana felt good. Not as good as she wanted, but good. She studied and did not get pregnant when she was young. A rarity, because her countrywomen, as she calls them, get pregnant at 12, 13 or 14 years old. When they reach 20 they already have more children. She didn’t want that. She left Canaima, worked, saved. She understood that she didn’t need a man to get ahead. She, when she wanted, fell in love and became pregnant. She is 34 years old and her son is 6. She is a single mother, but she doesn’t need anything. Neither does her son, she says. Thanks God.


They came to gold pushed by the economic crisis: the bolivar began to lose value, turning into salt and water. So, convinced that gold has no borders, the same people adopted it as their currency. As happens with any drastic change, at first the adaptation was not easy, even though, directly or indirectly, many were linked to mining.

Diana, for example, had a hard time understanding that there are several types of gold, that not all of them are yellow and shiny as one thinks. Now she explains it with the attitude of a veteran: “One has to see the gold carefully, because depending on the color you know its type, the green one is the one that is worth the least.” She says she learned it from a person who works with her, who also taught her how to weigh it and know its equivalence, because in the city it is worth more.

That is why she now knows that in Canaima the market rules are different: it is not supply and demand, but some turcos to whom Diana prefers not to give names, who decide at their convenience how much the gold is worth. When they are interested, they raise the price; when not, it goes down. In any case, there is only one thing that is certain: in the city, in Puerto Ordaz, in Caracas, over there, it is worth more.

Although it is an area where tourism represents the main source of work, and consequently in the past payments in different currencies proliferated, the increase in dollar transactions within the community began to normalize in 2018, at the same time that in the rest of the country. Until then, gold was the preferred currency in daily economic activities.

Diana says that initially many resisted the use of dollars, due to mistrust about the origin of the bills, their real value and the state of deterioration in which they were found. She herself was one of those who demanded payments in gold. However, that also complicated their lives, not everyone had access to gold and they also had to be careful that the grams were not lost. Although she made sure to take good care of them, one day her dog swallowed them.

“My dog once ate two grams, $80. We had them wrapped in a bag of cookies and the dog ate them. We had to look for them in his poop and we recovered them. Then we started to be more careful with that, we kept them in these transparent bags, like Ziploc, well away from the dog,” she says.

Talking about transfers, on the other hand, is like talking in another language: those are in bolivars and in Canaima that practically no longer exists. The only headquarters of the Bank of Venezuela, near the Canaima Camp, is abandoned, full of dust and bush because no one receives bolivars anymore. It wasn’t always like this. Diana still remembers that there was a time when the ATM gave cash and there was Movilnet signal to make transfers and pay at points of sale. That was before gold and cash dollars came along.

Neighbors pay in gold, tourists in dollars.


In addition to her son, Diana currently lives with her father and brothers. Not long ago there were more of them: her mother died in early 2022 from Covid-19, shortly after the tourists arrived and spread the virus.

Diana was also infected. In fact, everyone in Canaima was infected. Or at least that’s what she thinks. That’s why when they proposed opening the doors to tourism again in 2021, Diana and her family opposed it. Her mother, however, did not die in Canaima. When she was infected, they took her to the town clinic, but they barely had equipment to care for her, so after a few days they had to take her out of the emergency room.

“This clinic lacks a lot; they should be more equipped because we live isolated from the country. And I’m not saying this because of my mother, because we have relatives outside, in Puerto Ordaz or my grandparents live in Ciudad Bolívar. I say this because many people live here who are not that lucky and when they are sent with some sick relative, they have to sleep in the hospital. And for a person who lives practically isolated in Canaima, it is difficult to navigate the city,” he says.

Because unlike tourists who enter and leave easily, leaving has become a luxury for the inhabitants of Canaima. Most can only do it once a year, in the month of November, when Christmas approaches, to buy clothes and gifts for the children. It is not a local tradition, but over the years they have made it their own. Diana among them.

Since paying the freight costs is very expensive and there are usurious sellers everywhere, people organize themselves to go out, buy, and return. But even that becomes increasingly difficult, says Diana: “Conviasa, the state-owned airliner, the only one that reaches Canaima, is only traveling to Caracas and not to Ciudad Bolívar or Puerto Ordaz, where the majority have their relatives.”

The last time she took one of those flights, she paid $150 and her son half, round trip. Conviasa tells them that these are special prices for people in the community. The same ticket costs a tourist $180.

And the Hercules, the plane that the State made available for the town, is only enabled in cases of emergency or when someone pays a fee to look for some cargo. “And that doesn’t mean that whenever we want we are going to go and ride it as if it were ours. First you have to sign up and do the paperwork to fly,” she says.

In Canaima there is also bureaucracy.


Now Diana and her brothers are the head of the house. They are two. One is a Canaima tour guide and the other is 15 years old. Diana feels that same responsibility that all older siblings feel to keep an eye on everything, to make sure everything runs like clockwork, because they have no one else.

They, her family, are the second reason that still ties her to Canaima.

The first is her son: she wants him to grow up in freedom and that in the city, she says, is difficult to find. That is why now she prefers to have him next to her, to be able to guide his steps. And when he is ready, let him fly. Let him go to the city and, like she did in Puerto Ordaz, study and prepare for the future. Then he will decide whether to leave or stay in Canaima.

For now she feels that her Internet business has been worth it.