Caracas, June 23, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s Supreme Court has announced that it will hear a lawsuit filed by former high ranking cabinet members against a government plan to open 12 percent of the South American nation’s territory to open-pit mining.
In February, President Nicolas Maduro signed an executive order designating 112 square kilometers of the mineral-rich eastern Amazonian state of Bolivar the “Orinoco Mining Arc Strategic Development Zone”, which will be opened to as many as 150 national and transnational firms for the extraction of gold, iron, diamonds, bauxite, and coltan.
The move has sparked staunch opposition from diverse social movements grouped around the Platform for the Nullity of the Mining Arc, which includes leading public intellectuals and ex-government officials, among whom the former ministers of environment, commerce, and electricity.
Last month, the movements descended on the Supreme Court in Caracas to file a nullity plea challenging the constitutionality of the presidential decree, which they argue violates a host of civil, environmental, and indigenous rights enshrined in the Magna Carta.
In its statement announcing the admission of the case last week, the high court ordered that the heads of all relevant ministries be notified of the litigation, including the ministers of oil and mining, eco-socialism and water, indigenous peoples, ecological mining, as well as the director of the Indigenous Institute and coordinator of the Orinoco Strategic Development Zone.
Additionally, the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Communes to publish the statement on its website in order to “make known the admission of the nullity plea among the communities, communes, and other civil organizations active in the perimeter of the Mining Arc so they have the opportunity to attend the hearing”.
The announcement comes a week after the opposition-led National Assembly approved a resolution denying the president authorization to go forward with the mega-mining project.
On June 14, former environment minister Ana Elisa Osorio addressed the legislature, attacking the Mining Arc as an “attack on life” that goes against the legacy of late president Hugo Chávez.
“When I was environment minister, which was the first time that the concession to Gold Reserve was suspended, President Chávez told us that this gold stays in the earth as long as there is no sustainable technology,” she said, referring to former president’s decision to terminate the Canadian mining firm’s Las Brisas concession in 2009.
“For this reason, I am here defending the legacy of Hugo Chávez,” she added, alluding to the Maduro government’s decision to sign a new USD $5 billion deal with Gold Standard in February.
The ex-minister’s remarks sparked a heated debate between opposition and ruling Socialist Party legislators with the former ultimately passing a resolution rejecting the presidential decree.
The Mining Arc has proved divisive among many of President Nicolas Maduro’s left-wing supporters who have rejected the measure as a viable solution to the country’s severe economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global crude prices.
In a bid to ease concerns, the government created the Ministry of Ecological Mining earlier this month, which will reportedly be tasked with ensuring that the mega-project is carried out with respect for the ecosystem and local communities.