Venezuelan Social Movements Rally Against Open-Pit Mining in the Orinoco Arc

Several dozen activists from Venezuelan social movements demonstrated outside the offices of state oil company PDVSA on Thursday in protest at the Maduro government’s decision to open up the 117,000 km “Orinoco Arc” to transnational mining firms.

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"Nobody asked indigenous communities if they wanted excavators in their houses". A sign from Thursday's demonstration (Aporrea).
"Nobody asked indigenous communities if they wanted excavators in their houses". A sign from Thursday's demonstration (Aporrea).
By Lucas Koerner
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Caracas, April 3, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Several dozen activists from Venezuelan social movements demonstrated outside the offices of state oil company PDVSA on Thursday in protest of the Maduro government’s decision to open up the 117,000 km “Orinoco Arc” to transnational mining firms.

“We are here to express our categorical rejection of the decision of the national executive to sign deals with transnationals behind the backs of the Venezuelan people, without any public consultation,” said Mara Garcia, a member of the Trotskyist group Marea Socialista.

The demonstration is part of a week of action organized by popular movements against a series of agreements signed by the Venezuelan government with Canadian mining firm Gold Reserve and several Chinese companies in February. The deals authorize open-pit mining in the country’s far eastern Amazonian state of Bolivar, amounting to 12 percent of national territory.  

While the government of President Nicolas Maduro has defended the project as a necessary step in diversifying the country’s oil-driven economy and shoring up fiscal stability amid an acute recession, grassroots activists have condemned the initiative as an “ecocide” with severe social and ecological repercussions.

“We are certain that the Orinoco Arc is an open-pit homicide against the environment,” affirmed Valentin Guimares, 26, who noted that open-pit mining uses between 450 and 1060 liters of water per gram of gold extracted, further endangering water security in a country suffering its worst drought in 47 years.

“This project contradicts the eco-socialist principles of the revolution as well as the entire legal framework we have fought and shed so much blood for,” explained Yarumi Gonzalez, 30, referring to the 2013-2019 Homeland Plan’s fifth strategic objective of “preserving the life of the planet” as well as the environmental protections enshrined under articles 127, 128, and 129 of the Constitution.

In addition to ecological devastation, opponents of the initiative fear that transnational mining will spur increased paramilitary activity with dire consequences for the large indigenous communities of the region.

For Gonzalez, the decision on the part of the Chavista government is particularly shameful given that President Hugo Chávez revoked Gold Reserve’s Las Brisas concession in 2008 as part of his government’s bid to nationalize the mining sector.

“Like Chávez, we make a call to strike at the helm, to resume the revolutionary process, understanding that Chávez himself put a stop to Gold Reserve,” she told Venezuelanalysis.

After more than four hours standing under the hot sun, the activists were finally able to meet with representatives of PDVSA and deliver a letter signed by over 50 grassroots organizations to the vice-minister of oil and mining.

Among the movements’ demands were calls for the government to undertake an environmental impact study of the project, conduct a binding national consultation, and revoke the mining concessions in the case that the population opposes the project.

While the government has yet to respond to the petition, numerous rank-and-file PDVSA employees exiting the building during the protest expressed support for the activists’ aims, with one worker commenting, “This is how you get things done.”

The action is the beginning of a protracted bottom-up campaign against the Orinoco Arc initiative modeled on last year’s successful campaign against a government decree authorizing coal mining in the Perija mountains.

Last Wednesday, the groups organized a forum in Caracas featuring former Chávez environment minister Ana Elisa Osorio as well as Indigenous University of Venezuela Rector Esteban Mosonyi, who voiced strong critiques of the Maduro government’s decision.

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