Six years after Chavez was voted into power indigenous people are still fighting for their lives and for the environment.
Learn more and find out how you can help;
FILMS, FOOD AND DEBATE
Manchester, Sunday 18th 3pm, The basement, 24 Lever St
In 1999 Chavez was voted into power, the new Venezuelan constitution was written and people were thirsty for change. Neo-liberal policies were rejected in favour of ‘missions’; designed to empower the very poorest communities. The ‘left’ across the world celebrated while the ‘right’ panicked. The political landscape in Venezuela was polarised; Chavez vs. the capitalist opposition; black vs. white.
However 6 years on and there is trouble in paradise. Big business is reasserting itself while indigenous people continue to fight for their lives and for the environment. Shades of grey and bursts of colourful resistance are breaking through the black and white picture. Learn more and find out what you can do to help.
FILMS FOOD AND DEBATE
Manchester, Sunday 18th, The basement, 24 Lever St
3pm INTRO and FILM
‘Neustro Petroelo y Ostro Cuentos’
(‘Our oil and other stories’)
4.30pm SHORT PRESENTATION followed by DISCUSSION
Photos & news paper clippings & report back from a recent trip to Venezuela.
Info’ on indigenous resistance against coal mining and the call for solidarity action.
A space for critical reflection of the Bolivarian process.
6.30pm FOOD and FILM
Traditional Venezuelan food
‘Bolivarian Venezuela; people and struggle of the fourth world war’
Other recommended links;
Venezuela’s Indigenous People Protest Coal Minng
Americas new Enemy
WHAT IS SO REVOLUTIONATY ABOUT VENEZUELAN COAL?
By Christian Guerrero, CRAMA
In recent months, the Venezuelan government has announced its intentions
to triple the production of coal mining in the western state of Zulia from
8 million metric tons to 36mmt per year. This long-term energy sector
expansion project falls into a much larger regional development plan that
has come into sharp conflict with communities and environmental interest
in the region. In what seems to be contrary to the anti-imperialist
revolutionary rhetoric of President Hugo Chavez, and more similar to other
recent announcements that the Venezuelan government has in the last months
with regards to it's energy and development policy, Big Coal along with
Big Oil, and the World Bank are at the drawing board when it comes to
Venezuela's plans for development and “revolutionary process”.
Zulia is Venezuela’s most westerly state, and has been historically the
cradle of Venezuela’s oil wealth, generating hundreds of billions of
dollars over the last half century in wealth for foreign oil companies
that have exploited the region since the 1920s. It’s also a region where
many still primitive indigenous communities cling on to their last
remaining ancestral lands threatened by the expansion of the oil industry.
Barí, Yukpa, and Wayúu tribes have for decades also resisted the
encroachment into their territory by lumber, ranching and mining
interests, and have held the line at the Sierra de Perijá Mountains.
In the last fifteen years since the early nineties, whole Wayúu
communities were forced of their lands in the Guasare-Socuy river valley,
a region in north-western Zulia and immediately north of the Sierra de
Perijá. In that time Corpozulia, the regional/state development agency,
together with foreign private mining firms opened two massive open-pit
coal mines, Mina del Norte and Paso Diablo, displacing thousands of
inhabitants in the immediate surrounding area, primarily due to the heavy
metal laden dust produced by the mines that eventually can cause
pneumoconiosis, a respitory lung disease that can lead to lung cancer. The
announcement to increase the quota of volume of coal exploited in the
region also includes new mining concessions that span a territory of
approximately 250,000 hectares that includes the entire foothills region
east of the Sierra de Perijá mountain range.
Dividing Venezuela and Colombia, the Sierra de Perijá is a strategic route
for drugs and arms trafficking and a safe haven for guerrilla and
paramilitary camps. Its is also one of Venezuela’s premier National Parks,
with humid to sub-humid tropical rainforest and high-mountain grasslands
extending over 300,000 hectares and harbouring such unusual suspects such
as the black eagle, capuchin monkey and the Andean bear. The Sierra de
Perijá also is a key source of fresh water in the region providing rivers
and other rich riparian eco-systems that are also important sources of
food security for communities in the river basin areas. Forming a
semi-ring with the Andean mountain range around Lake Maracaibo, the Sierra
de Perijá is now the premier coal reserve in the country, with estimated
deposits of 400mmt.
Zulia’s state capital, Maracaibo, with a urban-sprawling population of
approximately 3 million people, is a city that despite being the most
developed metropolis in western Venezuela, has always had severe water
shortages and ration periods. State officials claim that the water
shortages are due to “low reserves in the Tulé and Manuelote reservoirs”.
Local residents contest that the shortages are due to poorly regulated
water systems, corrupt water resource authorities, and water contra
banding businesses that steal from public water sources and resell the
precious liquid in water-deprived areas of the city.
The two reservoirs, Tulé and Manuelote, are Maracaibo’s only sources of
fresh water and fed by the Cachirí, Socuy, and Maché rivers. All three
rivers are born in the Sierra de Perijá and flow east into the Perijá
foothills. Maracaibo, ironically, sits on the coast of Lake Maracaibo, one
of the largest fresh-water lakes in South America and the world, and once
a safe source of fresh portable water for the city, now is too overly
contaminated by decades of precarious oil exploitation practices that it
is not even safe to swim in. Although some areas around Maracaibo are
flooded and almost swamp-like, other parts of the city receive running
water only once a week, and has seen its region’s water quality and supply
negatively affected by the existing coal mining operations in the
Guasare-Socuy region that use the Socuy river to “wash” the coal during
its collection and separation process.
Along with the announcement to increase the coal mining concessions in
Zulia, Chavez has also agreed to the construction of Puerto America, a
mega multi-use industrial sea-port for international exportation of coal,
petrol-chemicals, and oil among other “goods” (or bads) to US and European
consumer markets. These plans also include a coal-powered thermoelectric
plant and an extensive railway system to facilitate the transportation of
coal from the Sierra de Perijá to the proposed new sea-port. Puerto
America is proposed to be built atop three islands off the coast of Zulia
and at the mouth of Lake Maracaibo’s entrance to the Caribbean Sea.
Zapara, San Carlos and San Bernardo Islands, considered unique artisan
fishing communities that maintain modest lifestyles and close
relationships with the fauna island refuge Los Olivitos, a nature preserve
for rare sea birds, are in complete disapproval with the proposed sea-port
construction plans and claim never to been reasonably consulted about
their fate. These expanded coal concessions and parallel transportation
projects are set to begin next year with hundreds of millions of dollars
in funding from the World Bank, according to Corpozulia.
All these development projects have been negotiated behind closed doors
and without the knowledge or consent of local communities slated to be
The appropriate question to ask now would be ¿who is at the drawing board
when it comes to these long-term energy-sector and transportation plans?
The list of multinational corporations investing in the region is too long
to list, not withstanding the usual suspects in Big Oil, Chevron Texaco
being Hugo Chavez’s favorite darling. The Ministry of Development and
Planification calls the coordinated initiatives in Zulia the Western Axis
of Development, which is one of three axis of development designated to
Venezuela within the larger continental development initiative called
Funded in part by the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Andean
Development Corporation, among other banks and states, IIRSA, in Spanish
stands for Integración de Infraestructura Regional de Sur America, or in
English, the South America Regional Infrastructure Integration Initiative.
As the name explains, IIRSA is a regional or continental wide initiative
aimed at integrating and synchronizing strategic infrastructure works that
will facilitate “a more efficient” exploitation of resources, human and
natural. IIRSA seeks multi-state cooperation and funding for a wide range
of sectors such as, transportation (land, sea and air), borders, ports,
information technology and communications, and energy markets. In
Venezuela, there exist three main development axes; the eastern and
western axes spanning “vertically” at each extreme of the country, and the
Apure–Orinoco axis, that runs “horizontally” spanning across the country
connecting the other two axes like a “H”. Zulia´s coal industry and Puerto
America are the cornerstone of Venezuela participation in IIRSA mostly due
to their geographical contributions, facilitating a gradual connection to
the Central American infrastructural integration initiative, Plan Puebla
Panama (PPP). Along with the recently announced gas-pipeline between
Colombia and Venezuela (Gasoducto Trans-Guajira) and the “now proven”
heavy crude oil reserves (the largest in the western hemisphere) in
Venezuela’s Orinoco river basin- the main component in the Apure-Orinoco
development axis, Hugo Chavez, Colombia’s president Alvaro Uribe, and
their closest associatesin Big Coal and Big Oil, have secured for the
first-world’s unsustainable and growing energy markets, cheap and reliable
fossil fuels for the next 50 years.
Since the announcement made by the Venezuelan government to increase the
volume of coal exploited in Zulia, indigenous communities and
environmental groups of all colours have band together to create a
resistance movement to save the Sierra de Perijá Mountains and rivers,
Maracaibo’s fresh water sources.
On March 18 a crowd of 3 thousand mostly Yukpa and Bari marched into the
city of Machiques, a small farming town close to the proposed mining
concessions. After marching 20 kilometers and reaching the city, the crowd
overtook the central plaza for a rally and shortly afterward occupied the
city’s mayor’s office, shooting arrows and breaking though the front door.
Their main demand and slogan was “No al Carbón en la Sierra de Perijá."
Coal in Spanish is called carbon.
Earlier in that month, MIACCA, a coal mining company form Chile, had
announced that two of their coal transport trucks had been “destroyed” and
a Chilean mining engineer kidnapped. Shortly afterward Barí warriors
released the captive engineer unharmed and admitted responsibility to
“disabling” the two transport trucks, claiming they are in full resistance
to coal mining in the Sierra de Perijá.
On March 31, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Caracas, in an
attempt to march to the presidential palace Miraflores to ask President
Hugo Chavez to personally cancel the expanded coal mining concessions. The
protesters also demanded the immediate recognition of indigenous
self-demarcated lands, outlined in Venezuela’s new “Bolivarian”
constitution and in the Indigenous Territory Self-Demarcation Law.
Hundreds of protesters travelled overnight, 12 hours to Caracas in a five
bus caravan from the state of Zulia. The mostly indigenous contingency
were Wayúu from the Guasare-Socuy valley, communities affected by existing
mines in their region, and Yukpa and Barì communities from the Sierra de
Perijá Mountains that are resisting the opening of new mines in their
territories. Also, a large group of university students and adults from
Maracaibo joined the caravan. Among them were ex-employees of the
Guasare-Socuy mines wanting to protest the lack of health and safety
standards used in the mining operations.
These groups were met in Caracas by hundreds of more protesters from all
over Venezuela, representing a wide spectrum of social, human rights, and
environmental groups. Many individuals and groups are supporters of the
government under President Hugo Chavez and the “Bolivarian revolutionary
process”, but feel the development plans of the coal industry are not in
the best interest of Zulia and the local communities in the region. The
protest ended late in evening, with the delegation of representatives
never meeting with President Hugo Chavez, who was actually too busy to
attend to the thousands of protesters in the streets because he was in a
high profile meeting with Argentinean soccer legend and renowned party
animal, Diego Maradona. On April Fool`s Day- the next day after the march
in Caracas, Corpozulia, countering the meagre media coverage of the
indigenous protest, paid for full-page colour publicity spots in all the
local newspaper friendly to the Chavez government, leaving one wondering
if publicity editorials that claim their “commitment to the environment
and the effected communities” were aimed at Chavez supporters.
The reality is that behind these green-washing initiatives is a greater
development plan that receives little attention. Unlike other
international “cooperation” initiatives like the FTAA or the PPP or even
Plan Colombia which are overtly despised by the Venezuelan government,
IIRSA has received little or no media attention at all. This is because
Venezuela’s government has been quiet frankly in favour of the initiative,
marketing it as a step toward Simon Bolivar’s dream of a united South
America of independent states. But what is not being discussed are the
social and ecological impacts that these “cooperation projects” will have
on communities and the natural environment.
The campaign to stop coal mining to save the Sierra de Perijá and water
for Maracaibo has opened a much larger can of worms. Along with other
slogans used in flyers and banners at protests, NO al PPP and No al IIRSA
have become standard messages that activist in these struggles have used
to connect the dots between the many industrial development projects
taking place the region. And this has not come without the propaganda
backlash from the “revolutionary government.”
More recently on April 22, an Earth Day protest organized in collaboration
with the Colectivo Radical Autonomo Morfo Azul, or CRAMA, that had
intended to march to the headquarters of Corpozulia in Maracaibo, turned
into a media stunt propagated by the head of Corpozulia, General Carlos
Martinez Mendoza. Like many other important positions held in the
Venezuelan government, high military officers in business suits are
calling the shots. General Martinez, getting word of yet another annoying
indigenous march and protest, called for a rally of supporters of coal in
front of Corpozulia. Actually, contracting coal transportation truckers
and other mining employees employed by Corpozulia, the “counter-march” was
reminiscent to the marches seen in 2002 and 2004 during the contested
fight between opposition and supporters of President Hugo Chavez. General
Martinez claimed the counter-march was spontaneous and a surprise to him,
seeing the “overwhelming support for Zuila’s mining industry.” He failed
to explain though how the spontaneous counter-march had organized streets
to be blocked off by police, and a huge rally stage with concert-like
sound equipment had been set up in front of Corpozulia so spontaneously
and to his surprise.
CRAMA, in English stands for the Blue Morphos Radical Autonomous
Collective - as in the striking beautiful butterfly particular to the
region. This Earth First!esque collective has been carrying out a popular
education campaign, visiting various communities slated to be effected by
the expansion of the mining concession and the parallel transportation
projects that are proposed. Making face to face contact with the
communities, conducting workshops, sharing experiences, videos
documentaries and music, this collective has done a considerable job in
bringing necessary information to how all these projects mentioned are
intimately connected. To find out more about how you can help CRAMA in
their struggle to fight coal mining and save the Sierra de Perijá mountain
and rivers in Zulia please see:
Or contact: email@example.com Coal in Spanish is called carbon.
Indigenous groups in the Sierra have asked for people to volunteer as international observers through January and February. For more information contact the above address or firstname.lastname@example.org