The vast area, some 112,000 square kilometres, covers 12 per cent of the Venezuelan territory. It crosses rich tropical forests, including the Sierra de Imataca in the east and the centrally located El Caura, as well as the Orinoco and Caroní river basins.
These are all fragile ecosystems, containing the sources of water and plant life that provide the mechanisms that regulate the environment and the generation of hydro-energy. They could be seriously affected by such an extensive mining project that includes legally protected environmental preserves and Indigenous communities.
Deforestation and pollution from the use of mercury have spread to Canaima National Park, even though it’s a protected area by Venezuelan law. Both international corporations and the Venezuelan military — responsible by law to protect the area — are to blame for this environmental devastation, according to experts in the area.
So why aren’t any of the global environmental organizations speaking out about it?
The Orinoco Mining Belt has large reserves of coltan (a mineral coveted by the electronics industry), bauxite, diamonds and gold. Roberto Mirabal, who leads the mining ministry, puts their value at about US$2 trillion.
Military dirty business
Under a scheme of strategic partnerships, the Venezuelan government gave mining concessions to a number of companies based in China, Russia, Canada, South Africa, the Republic of Congo and Australia in 2016.
Other organizations such as MiningWatch Canada have not released a public statement about the participation of Gold Reserve — a gold mining company headquartered in Washington state — in the Arco, beyond a recent timid tweet after being pressed to say something about the partnership between the Canadian mining corporation and the Venezuelan regime.
These global green activists are usually noisy — what might be behind their surprising silence?
Here are some possibilities:
First, despite having highly polluting industries such as oil and mining, Venezuela has been off the radar of the big environmental NGOs because it was once considered a middle-income country. A perceptual bias could be guiding the advocacy activities of such organizations, who have been very vocal in some cases (e.g. Chevron in Ecuador).
Second, Chávez’s “leftist revolution,” which favoured the poor, has granted Venezuela a benevolent image (now widely denied), exonerating it from suspicions of ecocide.
In a recent essay, Venezuelan professor Gisela Kozak Rovero suggests that these leftist ideals are also influencing academia: “The appropriation of leftist discourse … has allowed the Bolivarian revolution to build alliances with academics in different latitudes and the promotion of militancy disguised as research….”
The same could be said of some green progressives who have chosen ideological blindness instead of facing the truth about the ecological crime that is being committed in Venezuela.
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