Questions for the President on Open-Pit Mining

In an open letter to President Maduro, the author raises concerns regarding a recent open-pit mining concession by the Venezuelan government to Canadian mining conglomerate Gold Standard, which is likely to have severe ecological repercussions in the South American nation. 


Mr. President, we understand that the urgencies of government don’t allow you to inquire too much into complex issues, and due to that, you probably receive and take on board every alleged “good idea” that your advisors or collaborators hand over to you. But you must also know that that lack of knowledge doesn’t absolve you from responsibility once you have taken the decision to carry out or decree an action. Here we are referring specifically to the concessions granted to transnationals to develop open-pit mining across 12% of Venezuelan territory, bringing as a consequence irreversible damage to 30% of our forests, chemical pollution in the Orinoco river and in other water sources that happen to be inside the exploitation area. This is the reason why we are intrigued to know: what makes you think that the authorisation to carry out open-pit mining, the most damaging thing that mankind has done to the earth since nuclear testing, and which doesn’t look set to last much longer in the rest of the world, would be good for the present, and above all the future, of Venezuela? 

Why take the easy route of handing over the exploitation of our natural resources to international franchises, for them to tell us how much they extracted and how much money we’re expected to pay for this amputation of our homeland?  

Does the creativity born from the economic crisis only extend to our proposing that we substitute the oil rentier model, which has maintained us in a narcotic state throughout the past 100 years and which has prevented us from advancing towards economic independence, for a rentier model of greed (extractive mining) that leaves the destruction of eco-systems and the loss of sovereignty in its wake? 

Is it not possible to work with that same wildlife that we are condemning to death in order to develop natural and outdoor tourism which generates USD$263 billion annually? Or through bird-watching? Which generates USD$80 billion? Countries with less scenic resources than ourselves, such as Spain and France, are today raking in USD$50 billion. Does Colombia have more natural wealth than Venezuela? It is projected to generate 300,000 new jobs and earn USD$6 billion annually from 2018? Eco-tourism is the second-greatest generator of foreign currency earnings in our brother country Ecuador. We don’t even generate 0.1% of national income in that area. In Costa Rica, it is the principal motor of the economy. 

Were the specialists in the Environment Ministry or the eco-socialists of the 21st century in government consulted as real state advisors in this rushed mining “rescue” plan?

We don’t understand, if President Chavez himself revoked the concession to Gold Reserve for the imminent damage that it represented– the very same business which is generating an enormous and fatal ecocide in the Venezuela Essequibo– how we are going to once again grant it this concession, but now with even more territory and tax and royalty concessions?  

Are Chavez’s ideas just good for some things and not for others for the government? Where are the diligent actions of the Venezuelan Foreign Office in the face of the ecological affront that this Canadian business is carrying out in the Essequibo through open-pit mining? Or the concessions to the Chinese that are destroying our woods? Or the Russian franchises that are taking ownership over other minerals? Or are we only interested in the Essequibo for the areas where there is oil? 

How can this be understood when the homeland (plan for the nation) has a fifth historical objective, where its first strategic and general goal sets out orientating a new model of national development based on biodiversity and the comparative advantages of being the tenth country in the world and the sixth in Latin America for biological diversity: a synthesis of all the the ecosystems present in the Latin American region? When its final strategic objective is for developing and implementing a policy to organise the territory, attending to ecological, geographic, human, social, cultural, economic and political realities in accordance with sustainable development? Now we are going to throw a bucket full of misery over that green declaration and all for the fact that we will get some supposed foreign currency earnings from the ecocide that the anti-planetary franchises will doubtlessly carry out? Was that historic objective eliminated and we just didn’t realise?