Maduro asked at COP27 to reactivate Amazon agreement that would not require him to reduce deforestation in the Mining Arc

Maduro asked at COP27 to reactivate Amazon agreement that would not require him to reduce deforestation in the Mining Arc

Published on 01 Mar 2023

What were Nicolás Maduro's requests at the United Nations Climate Change Conference?

  • The “study area” of the agreement to combat deforestation barely covers a 53,000 square kilometer part of the southern Venezuelan state of Amazonas, less than 1% of the Amazon basin.
  • Latin America presented joint proposals with ILAC and CELAC in which Venezuela did not participate.
  • Minister of Ecosocialism said that deforestation was reduced by 47%, the same as what officials said in 2013, although deforestation in 20 years is equivalent to 17 Metropolitan Areas of Caracas or twice Qatar.

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 an idea “that we have been talking about for some years in previous Summits”. He did not talk about deforestation then.

That same day, during the so-called High Level Regional Dialogue “The Amazon as a pillar of climate balance and life”, he asked Colombian President Gustavo Petro to reactivate the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO), so that the signatory countries, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Suriname, Guyana and French Guiana could coordinate actions to stop deforestation in the Amazon.

“If there is any responsibility we South Americans have, it is to stop the destruction of the Amazon and initiate the process of coordinated, conscious and active recovery,” reported VTV.

He also said there was a commitment to “the regeneration and recovery of the Amazon, knowing the intense impacts it has on the continent and on humanity,” reported RT (formerly Russia Today, a media outlet controlled by the Putin regime).

Before, during and after COP27 Maduro and his administration pushed environmental narratives without any basis in fact or in a misleading manner such as Venezuela’s commitment to ACTO, Venezuela’s deforestation figures and Venezuela’s “success” at the global environmental conference.

47% less deforestation, official narrative repeated

On the same November 8 in which Maduro spoke of recovering the Amazon, the Minister of Ecosocialism, Jesús Lorca, assured in a VTV program that “in the last 20 years Venezuela has stopped deforestation by 47%”.

The figure has antecedents. The Minister had announced it at COP26, which was reflected on the Facebook page of the Office of the Presidency.

Lorca then said it at the XV session of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), held in May 2022 in Ivory Coast, declaring that more than 32 million trees had been planted thanks to Misión Árbol, as reported, without reference to the allegations on the Mining Arc, by the agency EFE Verde.

“In Venezuela we have a reforestation plan, which has as a goal the planting of 10 million trees, through the implementation of five lines of programs: One tree, one student, Family Agroforestry, Sowing life, Ecourbanism, and Conservation,” said then the head of the ecosocialist portfolio.

But the figure was not debuting.

On April 22, 2022, International Earth Day, Lorca posted it in a video on his Twitter account, although at the time he said that compared to the year 2000, not 2002.

But before Lorca, the figure already existed, with a life of its own. Both the Vice Minister of Environmental Conservation, Jesús Cegarra, and the then Minister of Environment, Cristóbal Francisco, used it nine years ago, in 2013. In both cases in comparison with the deforestation rate recorded for the period 1990-2000.

The data, despite official repetition, has no institutional backing.

The 2010 Environmental Indicators report of the then Ministry of Environment (PDF) cited a rate of 500,000 hectares of forest lost per year in Venezuela for 1995, while admitting that all Areas Under Special Administration Regime (ABRAE), which includes National Parks and other protected areas, were subject to deforestation.

In the Ministry’s next report, in 2013, the same year that the Minister and Vice Minister assured that deforestation had been reduced by 47%, the text admitted that although 67.47% of Venezuela’s territory is under some legal protection, the rate of deforestation in each of these was unknown.

This makes it questionable whether it is possible to calculate how much it increased or decreased if the rate has not been known since 1995.

Another revealing fact is found when consulting the Environmental Indicators section of the National Institute of Statistics (INE), because it does not appear on the main page. If you visit it, you will see that in Environment there are only Ephemerides.

However, in the following link we can access the hidden section “Environmental Indicators”, which only has data up to 2011, none on deforestation.

This “hidden” link was obtained thanks to the captures of Wayback Machine, an Internet robot that makes copies of all web pages and social networks, keeping even what has been deleted or modified.

This tool made it possible to find the Indicators section in the March 16, 2012 capture of the INE website as can be found here.

Bolsonaro’s fault

During the Regional Dialogue with the presidents of Colombia and Suriname, Nicolás Maduro said: “The victory of President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva is good news for South America and for the Amazon (…) after the devastation suffered by the Brazilian Amazon region over the last four years”.

The narrative has institutional backing. In his speech before COP27 he said “Let’s not change the climate, let’s change the system as Commander Hugo Chavez said in 2009 in Copenhagen; Mr. President, the imbalance and the environmental crisis created in nature are comparable to the conditions of inequality and injustice that capitalism has created against humanity”.

#CambiemosElSistema was one of the Twitter hashtags used by official accounts and Tuiteros de la Patria during COP27 to push pro-Maduro government narratives, as found by Cazadores de Fake News, Probox and Medianálisis.

Pointing the finger at Brazil’s former president as the culprit does have institutional backing.

Five related publications can be found in the Climate Change section of the Ministry of Ecosocialism.

One on the National Climate Crisis Observatory, its Bulletins No.1 and No.2, a community risk map and a children’s booklet.

All argue that one of the main sources of deforestation in the Amazon was due to the policies promoted by former President Jair Bolsonaro and global capitalism.

There is no mention of the Mining Arc or the deforestation in ABRAEs revealed in previous reports, the historically high production and consumption of hydrocarbons in Venezuela or having the largest natural gas flaring in the world.

It is worth noting that in the Community Risk Map, Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Strategy the word deforestation is not used even once in 118 pages, although “deforested” appears twice.

The forests that are gone

According to the report “Disappearing Forests” by the NGO Clima 21 together with Global Forest Watch, as well as data from the Amazonian Network of Geo-referenced Socio-Environmental Information, Raisg and the MapBiomas portal, found that the rate of deforestation in Venezuela went from 97,258 ha/year recorded between 2001 and 2015, to 157,307 hectares per year for the period 2016-2020, an increase of almost 62%.

This represents a total of 2,225,411 hectares of forest lost.

The equivalent of 17 Metropolitan Areas of Caracas, including El Hatillo, Chacao, Sucre and Baruta.

Or three times the state of Aragua or five times the state of Carabobo.

An area slightly larger than El Salvador and twice the size of Qatar.

For its part, the Venezuelan Society of Ecology calculated that between 2016 and 2020, 89.363 hectares annually while the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project, MAAP, estimated that in that same period 140 thousand hectares were cut down only in protected areas such as Caura, Canaima and Yapacana National Parks, in the latter where the Colombian guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN), FARC dissidents and the Bolivarian National Guard exploit gold mines as an investigation by Mongabay and Vorágine found.

Using satellite images, the organization SOS Orinoco found that in the Arco Minero del Orinoco alone, the period 2016-2020 saw the greatest loss of forests, with 230,121 hectares, which represents almost half of the area logged in that area since 2000.

Already Raisg, made up of organizations from 8 countries including Wataniba and Provita in Venezuela, revealed in 2015 that only Venezuela showed a trend of increasing deforestation in its report “Deforestation in the Amazon from 1970 to 2013“, while despite the propaganda pointing to Bolsonaro as almost primarily responsible for forest loss in the Amazon, Venezuela is the country whose forests are being lost the fastest in the Pan-Amazon, according to a journalistic report in Scidev that compared Clima21’s findings with the other countries.

Among the political causes of the deforestation peak since 2016 is the signing of the Mining Arc decree by Maduro as well as the relocation to southern Venezuela of FARC dissidents who did not embrace the Peace Accord signed that year in Colombia with Venezuela’s participation as mediator. So the cutting and burning of forests is not only to open gold and coltan mines, but also for camps and conucos to house and feed the miners, as well as for the ELN to traffic drugs according to an investigation using artificial intelligence by El País and Armando Info on satellite maps of southern Venezuela.

The ELN is in a process of peace talks with Petro’s government, similar to the one that led to the 2016 Peace Accord with the FARC. The meetings are being held in Caracas, with the mediation of Maduro and Venezuela, which has been pointed out by some critics in both countries as necessary because Venezuela is a participating actor, as demonstrated in these journalistic reports.

OTCA, an Amazonian papaya

Indeed, COP27 closed with a Loss and Damage Fund in its final agreements. Yet, when Maduro returned to Venezuela the next day, it had been renamed.

In a tweet published on his official account he called it “Financing Fund to Support Countries Victims of Natural Disasters”.

Reports in VTV, El Universal and Correo del Orinoco picked up Maduro’s statements from the presidential plane. He repeated Venezuela’s interest in reactivating the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization to “protect and recover” the Amazon.

And there was another transformation, because now he presented it as an idea that not only excited Venezuela.

“There was a consensus on the need to relaunch and strengthen the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) and, based on its relaunch and strengthening, to propose an alliance with the world in defense of the Amazon,” reported Diario VEA.

But in Gustavo Petro’s Twitter account there is not a single tweet that talks about ACTO, although it is possible to find several about the Amazon and COP 27 in which he recognizes Lula Da Silva’s ideas on forest protection and the work of the Colombian Minister of Environment.

It must be said, Maduro’s request to reactivate ACTO is, to say the least, unfair.

In May 2022, its Secretary General, Alexandra Moreira, former Minister of Environment of Bolivia during the government of Evo Morales, met with the Director of the Secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests and in November attended the 19th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Panama.

In addition, Venezuela is involved in the seven projects under execution, which include hiring of personnel open for November 2022 and bids and tenders, the most recent in April 2022.

Now, of the 552 maps published by ACTO’s Amazon Regional Observatory, Venezuela has not added any, while Brazil is responsible for 326.

But in addition, a “reactivation” would be very easy for the Maduro administration, since the ACTO study area in Venezuela has a very small territory as can be seen in these two maps in the section “Implementation of the Strategic Actions Program in the Amazon River Basin considering climate variability and change (Amazon Basin Project)” on its web page.

This is because, strictly speaking, the Amazon watershed only includes a small area in the south of the state of Amazonas of some 53,000 kilometers, while the Panamazonia, a more comprehensive socio-political and environmental concept used by environmental organizations to monitor the state of the Amazon rainforest, indigenous peoples and national actions, includes the entire territory of the states of Delta Amacuro, Bolivar and Amazonas.

Study Area: Amazon Basin, smaller than Panamazonia:

Likewise, the following table shows how the ACTO study area corresponding to Venezuela is described as the “Casiquiare River Basin/Río Negro” according to the document Rapid Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in the Amazon Region of January 2021.

With an area of 53,153 square kilometers, this basin is equivalent to only 0.7% of the Amazon basin, which covers more than 7.4 million square kilometers.

With this frame of reference, in both the First and Second Regional Deforestation Maps 2000 – 2010 and 2000 – 2013 of ACTO, deforestation is barely visible in Venezuela.

In contrast, by consulting the MapBiomas tool, a platform that shows annual high-resolution maps of land use changes, including deforestation, and in which Panamazonia is taken as a reference, the map of Venezuela 2021, published on December 2, 2022, shows changes due to deforestation in the best known mining areas and near the most important urban centers in the south of the country, such as Ciudad Bolivar and Ciudad Guayana, as well as in Las Claritas, the country’s main malaria hotspot.

Something similar happens if we look at the special Plundered Amazon, a map made by RAISG, where Venezuela appears as the country with the most illegal mining points.

The updated map for 2020 reveals a lower number of mining points but greater precision, but also a reality that would escape the monitoring and action of the organization that Maduro asked to reactivate.

Even so, ACTO denies Maduro and his officials. The “ACTO Forest Program for the Amazon Basin and Region” includes that Venezuela would have a deforestation rate of 0.33% per year of its territory for 2015, for a total of 164,600 hectares lost, a figure similar to the averages from 2016 of the various organizations cited.

Venezuela, out of the combo?

Colombia’s central proposal, made by its minister Susana Muhamad, was based on debt-for-climate action swaps.

In specific numbers, lowering from 20% of the annual budget for external debt payment to only 15%, which would be reinvested in adaptation, mitigation, loss and damage.

Colombia joined Mexico, Paraguay, Panama, Honduras, Antigua and Barbuda, Ecuador and the European Union.

Colombia also supported the request for the Loss and Damage Fund, both in the voice of Muhamad and the Vice-Minister of Environmental Land Management, Francisco Canal, as well as part of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), formed at COP18 in 2012 in Doha, Qatar, to which Venezuela does not belong.

Sam Goodman, head of climate policy at Costa Rican NGO La Ruta del Clima, even posted a thread on Twitter (which was retweeted by Petro) praising the decisive action of the Colombian and Chilean environment ministers in approving the Climate Loss and Damage Fund.

Goodman also welcomed the arrival of Lula as president of Brazil as a mix that could present a united Latin America for COP28.

Likewise, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) presented a joint position to COP27, but Venezuela did not participate in it, despite being the main promoter of its creation 11 years ago, as Maduro recalled on December 2, 2022.

Despite this, the Secretary for Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Innovation of Argentina, Cecilia Nicolini, held an event in Egypt to present the proposal together with environmental authorities from Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Dominican Republic and Uruguay, which was reviewed by Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Grenada, Mexico, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic.

To understand this absence, it should be remembered that at the CELAC meeting in 2021 in Mexico, there were verbal confrontations between the presidents of Uruguay and Paraguay with those of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela due to repression and the human rights situation. Maduro attended the meeting at the last minute and as a surprise.

At the same CELAC meeting, it was agreed to request at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, a fund to attend to natural disasters, whose name is reminiscent of the one Maduro named on the presidential plane upon his return to Caracas.

Thus, of the alliances and agreements in which Latin America presented itself as a bloc for climate negotiations, Maduro only promoted the reactivation of an organization that is still active and that would imply minimal action from Venezuela, without any impact on the main deforestation hotspots in the national Amazon.

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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