Venezuela’s Maduro Creates New Ministry for the Development of Ecological Mining

The new institution will be in charge of designing the state’s mining policy, as well as ensuring respect for the environment and human rights.

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas
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A promotional advertisement for the Orinoco Mining Arch from Venezuela’s Petroleum and Mining Ministry. “The Mining Arch will create new sources of foreign currency earnings for the country” (Ministry of Popular Power for Petroleum and Mining).
A promotional advertisement for the Orinoco Mining Arch from Venezuela’s Petroleum and Mining Ministry. “The Mining Arch will create new sources of foreign currency earnings for the country” (Ministry of Popular Power for Petroleum and Mining).

Caracas, June 8th 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) - This Tuesday during his weekly television show “In Contact with Maduro,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the immediate creation of a new mining ministry that will oversee the state’s newly expanded role in the exploitation of the country's vast natural resources. 

Officially titled the Ministry for the Development of Ecological Mining, the new institution will be in charge of ensuring that the state’s joint development projects with transnational companies are carried out with respect for the local environment and communities. It will also be responsible for carrying out a full review of Venezuela’s natural resources to date, and will be headed by lawyer Roberto Ignacio Mirabal Acosta. 

“Venezuela is going to begin an accelerated development process with an ecological concept, accompanied by indigenous communities, in gold, diamonds, copper and coltan,” affirmed Maduro on national television.

The announcement of the new ministry comes after the Venezuelan government revealed it had signed off on a mega-mining project in February in a bid to overcome the severe economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global oil prices. 

Nearly 112 square kilometers of Venezuela’s mineral-rich eastern Amazonian state of Bolivar will be opened up to as many as 150 national and transnational firms for the extraction of gold, iron, diamonds, and coltan as part of the venture. 

The move has earned a raft of criticism from Venezuela ecological and indigenous movements, which have condemned the project as an ethnocide.  

Just last week, movement leaders, former cabinet ministers, intellectuals and other political personalities descended on the Supreme Court, demanding that the judiciary halt the open-pit mining plans in the name of the country’s constitution. The mega-project is also fiercely opposed by Venezuela’s indigenous communities, which came together to sign a collective declaration opposing the mining plan in May. 

News of the new ecological mining ministry appears to have done little to allay social movements’ fears surrounding the Orinoco Mining Arch, however, despite being an ostensible government response to the widespread criticism of the project.  

On hearing the announcement, many ecologists criticised the new ministry as “a contradiction in terms” and lambasted what they described as a lack of consultation with movements and indigenous communities.   

On its Facebook page, leading Zulia based environmental collective Homo et Natura (Man and Nature) simply wrote,“Ministry for the Development of Ecological Mining. WHAT THE HELL IS THIS MADURO?”.

So far the president has given no indication that he will backtrack on his controversial decision to open Venezuelan territory to transnational mining, despite heavy opposition. 

During Tuesday’s television programme, the president informed the public that the first six major investments in the mega-project will be carried out over the next few days.