Assault on Venezuela's Protected Areas
Former Minister for the Environment, Enrique Colmenares Finol, yesterday
labelled the Caldera administration the "Garimpeiro cabinet of the
Americas" in an unprecedented attack on government plans to turn 1,200
million hectares of the Imataca Forest Reserve over to mining concessions.
Colmenares Finol claims the government wants to make Imataca into a
showpiece for the new "Apertura Minera" - Mines Opening -- by
getting public opinion behind the awarding of concessions to mining companies.
Rafael Caldera's government has sought to persuade the public that
there are valuable revenues to be gained from the mining sector, despite
evidence that as little as 5 tonnes of gold of the 40 extracted from Venezuela's
gold-rich Bolívar State was actually taxed last year.
Sources close to the Ministry of the Environment and Non-Renewable
Resources (MARNR) say the new plan for Imataca is nothing compared to the
new long-awaited Mining Law. The Mining Law promises to open up even more
of Venezuela's protected areas, superseding previous legislation. Combined
with the present Apertura Petrolera, it seems Rafael Caldera's government
has bent under the pressure from the mining and energy lobbies to let them
solve the country's economic crisis.
According to Colmenares Finol, the new Imataca Management Plan sets
a grave antecedent. "If Parliament fails to intervene, every cabinet
from now on will be able to do what it likes with protected areas."
The ex-Minister for the Environment also criticised the government
for passing the new Management Plan through the back door, effectively
bypassing Congress, and claimed the government had shown its true colours
by not permitting any agricultural development in the new plan, while allowing
damaging artesanal and large-scale mining to continue.
The debate over the 3.2 million hectare Imataca Forest Reserve in southeastern
Venezuela has heated up since the President of the Chamber of Deputies'
Environmental Commission, César Pérez Vivas, declared last
week that Congress would be forced to take the case to the Supreme Court
if the government refused to reverse its decision.
On Monday, the important Venezuelan NGO Fudena declared its opposition
to the new plan, stating it contravened the Washington Convention of 1941
on Biodiversity which Venezuela signed. Only Congress can alter the status
of protected areas such as the Imataca Forest Reserve.
Fudena also claims the Environment Law's article 3 paragraph 8 and
the Territorial Management Law on public consultation have been violated,
since the Venezuelan cabinet passed the management plan a full two weeks
before the deadline for public consultation had expired.
"The most worrying aspect of Imataca is that it seems to provide
another example of how this government seeks short-term means to rescue
the country from its present economic crisis with no thought for the future.
You have to ask : What will be left of Venezuela to guarantee its existence
tomorrow?" stated the NGO.
Seventeen leaders of the Pemon indians of Bolívar and Delta
Amacuro States from Venezuela's southeast, representing 14,000 people,
are in Caracas this week to lobby the government on the issue of the plan
to lay powerlines through their ancestral lands and Canaima National Park
World Heritage Site. The Pemon have also declared their opposition to the
new Management Plan for Imataca.
"Mining in Imataca means our death, that's why we're against it.
We're fighting miners for access to clean water and fishing sites,"
stated Alexis Romero, director of Indigenous Participation in the Gran
Sabana municipality of Bolívar State.
The Pemon and hundreds of environmentalists and public figures will
be at the demonstration against the new Management Plan for Imataca at
the Ministry of Environment and Non-Renewable Resources (MARNR) tomorrow.