Mining Arc: a lawless territory that Maduro did not talk about at COP27

Mining Arc: a lawless territory that Maduro did not talk about at COP27

Published on 19 Jan 2023

The narrative created by chavismo at COP27 was clear: capitalism is the only one to blame for the environmental crisis, the Amazon is a vulnerable territory affected by its financial interests and Venezuela is a victim and not a promoter of deforestation. Experts not only laugh at this, but are alarmed.

This work is part of the deliveries of the Coalición Informativa “C-Informa”, integrated by Efecto Cocuyo, El Estímulo, Medianalisis, Cazadores de Fake News and Probox with the support of the Consorcio para Apoyar el Periodismo Independiente en la Región (CAPIR) and the advice of Chequeado from Argentina and DataCrítica from Mexico.

“We have traveled from Venezuela to bring our truth” was the phrase with which Maduro began his speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). However, the “truth” of which Maduro speaks is far removed from what environmental experts in Venezuela have been denouncing. Both “truths” coincide in that there is a problem in the Amazon, but they differ in pointing out who is responsible.

During the socialist period of chavismo, deforestation in Venezuela has not only increased, but the destruction and deforestation in the Amazon has been legitimized through the creation in 2016 of the Mining Arc, as a special zone for the exploitation of gold and precious metals that set alarm bells ringing for environmental rights defenders in the country and around the world.

For environmental experts, the Arco Minero is the legitimization of environmental illegality in the country. Despite the fact that Venezuelan law establishes the protection of this area, legal and illegal mining finds support in a government that sees gold as a way to obtain money in the midst of an oil crisis that has reduced the nation’s income.

Chavismo’s discourse at the COP: blaming the others

In the work published by Efecto Cocuyo on Maduro’s speech at the COP27, several arguments are established with which the Venezuelan government wanted to show itself before the international community on Environmental Rights.

In the almost 19-minute speech given by Nicolás Maduro on November 8, 2022 at the COP27 (United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt), the Chavista leader pointed out the urgency of creating the “Climate Loss and Damage Financing Fund”, which he described as a project “that we have been talking about for some years in previous Summits”. He did not speak then of deforestation.

Pedro García Montero, environmental expert and member of the Orinoco Group, assures that this global call is being made to defend the Amazon “when we ourselves are promoting its destruction with such an aggressive activity as mining”.

“It will be useless, as it has been until now, any effort we undertake to alleviate the consequences of this environmental disaster if we do not have the courage to recognize that this and no other is the cause of the disaster that is looming: consumer capitalism, voracious, predatory and destructive capitalism,” Nicolás Maduro said in his speech.

But the discourse didn’t just happen in Egypt, it moved to Twitter. Data reported by Probox and Fake News Hunters show the so-called homeland tweeters managed to dominate the conversation on the COP27 global hashtag. 23% of the retweets to the COP27 hashtag went to accounts linked to chavismo. Retweets went to the accounts @nicolasmaduro @VTVcanal8 @mippcivzla and @presidencialven.

The Mining Arc: a lawless territory

In its 2022 report, “The Orinoco Mining Arc and the destruction of Venezuela’s most important natural reserve”, the NGO FundaRedes denounced the illegalities occurring in a territory of 111,843.70 kilometers and representing 12.2% of the country’s surface.

The destruction of Venezuela’s most important environmental reserve, located in the states of Bolívar, Amazonas and Delta Amacuro, is a “consequence of extractivism, deforestation and indiscriminate logging of large areas of forest and illegal mining by criminal organizations,” warned FundaRedes.

However, the FundaRedes report emphasizes a key issue: “Since its approval, the Arco Minero del Orinoco (AMO) does not comply with essential and vast articles of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and organic laws, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among other provisions and treaties signed by the State regarding environmental protection”.

What laws is Arco Minero breaking?

Venezuela has a legal framework that specifically regulates everything related to the environment. From the Constitution of the Republic, through an organic law and general laws, the environmental issue in the country is protected, at least in theory.

In the opinion of the expert Alejandro Álvarez, general coordinator of Clima 21, no more laws are needed:Venezuela not only has a very important legislation, but there are a number of international conventions signed by the Venezuelan State and which are mandatory. The problem is that they are not complied with”.

Pedro García Montero, member of the Orinoco Group, agrees with this statement: “We have a sufficient environmental legal framework, what we lack is strict and rigorous enforcement of the law and environmental violations go totally unpunished”.

But what specific laws is the Maduro government breaking with the Mining Arc?

  • The Constitution: Article 127 states that it is the right and duty of each generation to protect and maintain the environment for the benefit of itself and the future world. Everyone has the individual and collective right to enjoy a safe, healthy and ecologically balanced life and environment”.
  • The Organic Law of the Environment: Article 21 establishes that activities susceptible of degrading the environment in a non-irreparable manner and which are considered necessary inasmuch as they report evident economic or social benefits, may only be authorized if guarantees, procedures and norms for their correction are established. The act of authorization will establish the pertinent conditions, limitations and restrictions”.
  • Soil and Water Forestry Law: Article 12 establishes that “National Parks shall only be used for the pleasure and education of the public, for tourism or scientific research, under the conditions determined by the respective Decrees or Resolutions of the Ministry of Agriculture and Breeding. The natural wealth existing in the National Parks may not be subjected to interventions that harm the functions of the Parks, nor exploited for commercial purposes“.

Environmental experts agree that the environment is not being protected as required by the Constitution, nor is the essence of the 5 national parks crossed by the Mining Arc being respected as required by the Soil and Water Forestry Law. In addition, justifying the exploitation by Article 21 of the Organic Environmental Law, which states that economic benefit is possible as long as the damage is not irreparable and that it is corrected, does not apply in this case.

“There is no serious policy on the part of the State to recover that territory (Arco Minero) and much less resources. The resources that are being extracted, most of them are not declared. Millions of dollars are leaving the country for gold and coltan. It is truly a tragedy to tell what is happening in the Arco Minero and its areas, assures García Montero.

In addition to this, environmental expert Alejandro Álvarez also points out that there are international agreements to which Venezuela is not subscribing or ratifying, thus evidencing the little importance that the government gives to this issue.

“Venezuela signed the Minamata Convention, which is the convention that regulates the issue of mercury worldwide, but did not ratify it,” Alvarez points out.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury, signed on October 10, 2013, calls for the protection of human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds. Mercury being one of the main elements to extract gold, contamination in the Arco Minero area is evident.

In addition to the non-ratification of the Minamata Convention, Álvarez highlights that Venezuela did not subscribe to the recent Escazú agreement, the first environmental treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean, which entered into force on April 22, 2021 and which aims to guarantee the full and effective implementation in the region of the rights of access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making processes and access to justice in environmental matters.

“Venezuela never wanted to participate, much less ratify this agreement so that all people and the media have access to information ranging from the simplest things, such as when water comes to my house or if that water is drinkable, or if there is some type of contamination near my house that will affect the water I drink,” says the general coordinator of Climate 21.

What remains to be done in legal matters

There are also shortcomings in legal and institutional matters in the country. For example, despite being a signatory of international treaties on the subject, there is still no Climate Change Law -although it has been announced that one is being studied in the National Assembly- and therefore there is no proper National Climate Change Center, but rather a National Climate Change Monitoring Center and “Youth Brigades against Climate Change” have been invented, which has nothing to do with the demands of young environmentalists to reduce the production and subsidy of fossil fuels, but rather to expand the official propaganda.

Among the legal commitments, Venezuela has only published two National Communications on Climate Change, a document that counts the emissions and risks for the country. One in 2005 with data from 1999 and others in 2017 with data from 2010, while since 2020 it was announced that a Third Communication is being elaborated without knowledge of the outstanding scientists Alicia Villamizar and Juan Carlos Sanchez, who were co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Omissions that led the National Academy of Sciences to elaborate its own First Academic Report on Climate Change, as so many NGOs in Venezuela have done to attack the scarcity of official data.

There is more missing, a National Plan of Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change, which serves to develop and implement policies to reduce and address situations such as those that occurred with the torrential rains in Tejerías, Aragua, during 2022.

Neither have the Nationally Determined Contributions been updated since 2017, which is an inventory document that should show a database of how many pollutant emissions are produced by all economic sectors in the country, whether public or private, and which should be presented publicly annually at each COP. Venezuela, several times, instead of uploading a database sends a document with the promise to do so or assuring that the Housing Mission is its policy of adaptation to climate change.

The most recent is a very long document dated November 2021 promising that the calculation will be updated, as can be seen on the UN COP27 website.

The Amazon: why is it so important?

The importance of the Amazon transcends Latin American borders. The Amazon, with 7.4 million km2 represents 4.9% of the world’s continental area, and covers extensions of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. It is one of the largest remaining forest masses in the world, together with the tropical rainforest around the Republic of Congo.

“It is an area that has an enormous amount of carbon dioxide that trees absorb through the process of photosynthesis. In addition, it is not only associated with the future of the planet, but for Venezuela it represents 80% of the country’s fresh water and has an enormous amount of biological diversity that can potentially bring solutions to many of the economic problems we have without the need to destroy it,” says Alejandro Alvarez.

For Pedro Garcia, the forest presents a kind of hidden harvest: “With the concern about climate change, the forest is a large area of CO2 sequestration through the photosynthetic process, through the process of accumulation of organic matter and plant mass in the soil. It is a great reservoir of biodiversity”.

The results of the Mining Arc: Is so much destruction justified?

Venezuela’s Minister of Ecosocialism, Jesús Lorca, assured in a VTV program that “in the last 20 years Venezuela has stopped deforestation by 47%”. However, environmental experts question this figure.

The deforestation data that are known and collected by organizations such as SOS Orinoco and Clima 21 show another reality. 2.2 million hectares of forest have been lost. That is 17 times the size of Caracas with its Metropolitan Area or twice the size of the World Cup host, Qatar.

Is this level of deforestation justified? According to the Climate 21 coordinator, not even all of the money from mining is coming into the country.

“The Mining Arc was a State policy that supposedly sought to achieve State financing since oil revenues had fallen. This has not been achieved. Estimates indicate that of the 100% of the gold extracted from Venezuela only 20% goes to the Central Bank, the other 80% disappears due to criminal networks that are not being attacked. In this process there is deforestation and mercury contamination. Mercury is sold and used in a totally indiscriminate manner,” says Alejandro Álvarez.

Environmental expert Pedro García agrees with this: “It is no mystery to anyone that the Mining Arc is causing deforestation, that bodies of water are being contaminated by oil and solid waste, mercury and cyanide. The mining arc is destroying water courses. The topography is being destroyed. The Mining Arc is destroying natural landscapes. It is destroying biodiversity. It is causing the movement of fauna to other places”.

The big problem for environmental experts is that mercury-affected areas in southern Venezuela and heavily deforested areas will take thousands of years to recover.

“Nature has infinite resilience but not on a human scale. It will take thousands of years for it to recover again. That is little for the planet, but for humans it is an extraordinarily long time,” concludes Alvarez.

This work is part of the deliveries of the Coalición Informativa “C-Informa”, a Venezuelan journalistic team that aims to confront disinformation and is integrated by Medianálisis, Efecto Cocuyo, El Estímulo, Cazadores de Fake News and Probox with the support of the Consorcio para Apoyar el Periodismo Independiente en la Región (CAPIR) and the advice of Chequeado from Argentina and DataCrítica from Mexico.

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