[Marxism] Battle in Venezuela over Coal

Jon Flanders jonflanders at jflan.net
Thu May 26 18:41:36 MDT 2005

Subject: [LAsolidarity]
=?iso-8859-1?q?nezuelan_Coal=3F?=From: guerrero at riseup.net
Date: Thu, May 26, 2005 7:22 pm
To: lasolidarity at lists.mutualaid.org

Aritcle sent to the Earth First! Journal- for their audience.  I send it
to the list as a personal perspective on local events that are happening
in Venezuela- offen ignored by "leftist"/alternative media - especially
in the US.

This article is about expanding coal mining consessions in Venezuela`s
western state of Zulia. It explains the threats coal mining poses to
indigenous communities and water security for Maracaibo, Zuila`s state
capital. The article also explains how this initiative is part of a
larger regional development plan, IIRSA, and other proposed projects that
fall into Zuila`s regional development. The article is also about the
grassroots resistence movement against the proposed projects.

2314 words

What’s so Revolutionary about Venezuelan Coal???
By Christian Guerrero, CRAMA

In recent months, the Venezuelan government has announced its intentions
to triple the production of coal mining in the western state of Zulia
from 8 million metric tons to 36mmt per year. This long-term energy
sector expansion project falls into a much larger regional development
plan that have come into sharp conflict with communities and
environmental interest in the region. In what seems to be contrary to the
anti-imperialist revolutionary rhetoric of President Hugo Chavez, and
more similar to other recent announcements that the Venezuelan government
has in the last months with regards to it's energy and development
policy, Big Coal along with Big Oil, and the World Bank are at the
drawing board when it comes to Venezuela's plans for development and
“revolutionary process”.

Zulia is Venezuela’s most westerly state, and has been historically the
cradle of Venezuela’s oil wealth, generating hundreds of billions of
dollars over the last half century in wealth for foreign oil companies
that have exploited the region since the 1920s. It’s also a region
wheremany still primitive indigenous communities cling on to their last
remaining ancestral lands threatened by the expansion of the oil
industry. Barí, Yukpa, and Wayúu tribes have for decades also resisted
encroachment into their territory by lumber, ranching and mining
interests, and have held the line at the Sierra de Perijá Mountains.

In the last fifteen years since the early nineties, whole Wayúu
communities were forced of their lands in the Guasare-Socuy river valley,
a region in north-western Zulia and immediately north of the Sierra de
Perijá. In that time Corpozulia, the regional/state development agency,
together with foreign private mining firms opened two massive open-pit
coal mines, Mina del Norte and Paso Diablo, displacing thousands of
inhabitants in the immediate surrounding area, primarily due to the heavy
metal laden dust produced by the mines that eventually can cause
pneumoconiosis, a respitory lung disease that can lead to lung cancer.
The announcement to increase the quota of volume of coal exploited in the
region also includes new mining concessions that span a territory of
approximately 250,000 hectares that includes the entire foothills region
east of the Sierra de Perijá mountain range.

Dividing Venezuela and Colombia, the Sierra de Perijá is a strategic
route for drugs and arms trafficking and a safe haven for guerrilla and
paramilitary camps. Its is also one of Venezuela’s premier National
Parks, with humid to sub-humid tropical rainforest and high-mountain
grasslands extending over 300,000 hectares and harbouring such unusual
suspects such as the black eagle, capuchin monkey and the Andean bear.
The Sierra de Perijá also is a key source of fresh water in the region
providing rivers and other rich riparian eco-systems that are also
important sources of food security for communities in the river basin
areas. Forming a
semi-ring with the Andean mountain range around Lake Maracaibo, the
Sierra de Perijá is now the premier coal reserve in the country, with
estimated deposits of 400mmt.

Zulia’s state capital, Maracaibo, with a urban-sprawling population of
approximately 3 million people, is a city that despite being the most
developed metropolis in western Venezuela, has always had severe water
shortages and ration periods. State officials claim that the water
shortages are due to “low reserves in the Tulé and Manuelote
reservoirs”.Local residents contest that the shortages are due to poorly regulated
water systems, corrupt water resource authorities, and water contra
banding businesses that steal from public water sources and resell the
precious liquid in water-deprived areas of the city.

The two reservoirs, Tulé and Manuelote, are Maracaibo’s only sources of
fresh water and fed by the Cachirí, Socuy, and Maché rivers. All three
rivers are born in the Sierra de Perijá and flow east into the Perijá
foothills. Maracaibo, ironically, sits on the coast of Lake Maracaibo,
one of the largest fresh-water lakes in South America and the world, and
once a safe source of fresh portable water for the city, now is too
overly contaminated by decades of precarious oil exploitation practices
that it is not even safe to swim in. Although some areas around Maracaibo
are flooded and almost swamp-like, other parts of the city receive
running water only once a week, and has seen its region’s water quality
and supply negatively affected by the existing coal mining operations in
Guasare-Socuy region that use the Socuy river to “wash” the
coal duringits collection and separation process.

Along with the announcement to increase the coal mining concessions in
Zulia, Chavez has also agreed to the construction of Puerto America, a
mega multi-use industrial sea-port for international exportation of coal,
petrol-chemicals, and oil among other “goods” (or bads) to US and
European consumer markets. These plans also include a coal-powered
thermoelectric plant and an extensive railway system to facilitate the
transportation of coal from the Sierra de Perijá to the proposed new
sea-port. Puerto America is proposed to be built atop three islands off
the coast of Zulia and at the mouth of Lake Maracaibo’s entrance to the
Caribbean Sea. Zapara, San Carlos and San Bernardo Islands, considered
unique artisan fishing communities that maintain modest lifestyles and
relationships with the fauna island refuge Los Olivitos, a nature
preserve for rare sea birds, are in complete disapproval with the
proposed sea-port construction plans and claim never to been reasonably
consulted about their fate. These expanded coal concessions and parallel
transportation projects are set to begin next year with hundreds of
millions of dollars in funding from the World Bank, according to

All these development projects have been negotiated behind closed doors
and without the knowledge or consent of local communities slated to be
The appropriate question to ask now would be ¿who is at the drawing board
when it comes to these long-term energy-sector and transportation plans?
The list of multinational corporations investing in the region is too
long to list, not withstanding the usual suspects in Big Oil, Chevron
Texaco being Hugo Chavez’s favorite darling. The Ministry of
Developmentand Pacification calls the coordinated initiatives in Zulia the Western
Axis of Development, which is one of three axis of development designated
to Venezuela within the larger continental development initiative called

Funded in part by the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Andean
Development Corporation, among other banks and states, IIRSA, in Spanish
stands for Integración de Infraestructura Regional de Sur America, or in
English, the South America Regional Infrastructure Integration
Initiative. As the name explains, IIRSA is a regional or continental wide
initiative aimed at integrating and synchronizing strategic
infrastructure works that will facilitate “a more efficient”
exploitationof resources, human and natural. IIRSA seeks multi-state cooperation and
funding for a wide range of sectors such as, transportation (land, sea
and air), borders, ports, information technology and communications, and
energy markets. In
Venezuela, there exist three main development axes; the eastern and
western axes spanning “vertically” at each extreme of the
country, andthe Apure–Orinoco axis, that runs “horizontally”
spanning across thecountry connecting the other two axes like a “H”. Zulia´s coal
industryand Puerto America are the cornerstone of Venezuela participation in
IIRSA mostly due to their geographical contributions, facilitating a
gradual connection to the Central American infrastructural integration
initiative, Plan Puebla Panama (PPP). Along with the recently announced
gas-pipeline between Colombia and Venezuela (Gasoducto Trans-Guajira) and
the “now proven” heavy crude oil reserves (the largest in the
westernhemisphere) in Venezuela’s Orinoco river basin- the main component
in theApure-Orinoco development axis, Hugo Chavez, Colombia’s president
AlvaroUribe, and their closest associatesin Big Coal and Big Oil,  have secured
for the first-world’s unsustainable and growing energy markets,
cheap andreliable fossil fuels for the next 50 years.

Since the announcement made by the Venezuelan government to increase the
volume of coal exploited in Zulia, indigenous communities and
environmental groups of all colours have band together to create a
resistance movement to save the Sierra de Perijá Mountains and rivers,
Maracaibo’s fresh water sources.

On March 18 a crowd of 3 thousand mostly Yukpa and Bari marched into the
city of Machiques, a small farming town close to the proposed mining
concessions. After marching 20 kilometers and reaching the city, the
crowd overtook the central plaza for a rally and shortly afterward
occupied the city’s mayor’s office, shooting arrows and
breaking thoughthe front door. Their main demand and slogan was “No al Carbón en la
Sierra de Perijá." Coal in Spanish is called carbon.

Earlier in that month, MIACCA, a coal mining company form Chile, had
announced that two of their coal transport trucks had been
“destroyed”and a Chilean mining engineer kidnapped. Shortly afterward Barí warriors
released the captive engineer unharmed and admitted responsibility to
“disabling” the two transport trucks, claiming they are in full
resistance to coal mining in the Sierra de Perijá.

On March 31, thousands of protesters took to the streets of Caracas, in
an attempt to march to the presidential palace Miraflores to ask
President Hugo Chavez to personally cancel the expanded coal mining
concessions. The protesters also demanded the immediate recognition of
self-demarcated lands, outlined in Venezuela’s new
“Bolivarian”constitution and in the Indigenous Territory Self-Demarcation Law.
Hundreds of protesters travelled overnight, 12 hours to Caracas in a five
bus caravan from the state of Zulia. The mostly indigenous contingency
were Wayúu from the Guasare-Socuy valley, communities affected by
existing mines in their region, and Yukpa and Barì communities from the
Sierra de Perijá Mountains that are resisting the opening of new mines in
their territories. Also, a large group of university students and adults
from Maracaibo joined the caravan. Among them were ex-employees of the
Guasare-Socuy mines wanting to protest the lack of health and safety
standards used in the mining operations.

These groups were met in Caracas by hundreds of more protesters from all
over Venezuela, representing a wide spectrum of social, human rights, and
environmental groups. Many individuals and groups are supporters of the
government under President Hugo Chavez and the “Bolivarian
revolutionaryprocess”, but feel the development plans of the coal industry are
not inthe best interest of Zulia and the local communities in the region. The
protest ended late in evening, with the delegation of representatives
never meeting with President Hugo Chavez, who was actually too busy to
attend to the thousands of protesters in the streets because he was in a
high profile meeting with Argentinean soccer legend and renowned party
animal, Diego Maradona. On April Fool`s Day- the next day after the march
in Caracas, Corpozulia, countering the meagre media coverage of the
indigenous protest, paid for full-page colour publicity spots in all the
local newspaper friendly to the Chavez government, leaving one wondering
if publicity editorials that claim their “commitment to the environment
and the effected communities” were aimed at Chavez supporters.

The reality is that behind these green-washing initiatives is a greater
development plan that receives little attention. Unlike other
international “cooperation” initiatives like the FTAA or the
PPP or evenPlan Colombia which are overtly despised by the Venezuelan government,
IIRSA has received little or no media attention at all. This is because
Venezuela’s government has been quiet frankly in favour of the
initiative, marketing it as a step toward Simon Bolivar’s dream of a
united South America of independent states. But what is not being
discussed are the social and ecological impacts that these “cooperation
projects” will have on communities and the natural environment.

The campaign to stop coal mining to save the Sierra de Perijá and water
for Maracaibo has opened a much larger can of worms. Along with other
slogans used in flyers and banners at protests, NO al PPP and No al IIRSA
have become standard messages that activist in these struggles have used
to connect the dots between the many industrial development projects
taking place the region. And this has not come without the propaganda
backlash from the “revolutionary government.”

More recently on April 22, an Earth Day protest organized in
collaboration with the Colectivo Radical Autonomo Morfo Azul, or CRAMA,
that had intended to march to the headquarters of Corpozulia in
Maracaibo, turned into a media stunt propagated by the head of
Corpozulia, General Carlos Martinez Mendoza. Like many other important
positions held in the
Venezuelan government, high military officers in business suits are
calling the shots. General Martinez, getting word of yet another annoying
indigenous march and protest, called for a rally of supporters of coal in
front of Corpozulia. Actually, contracting coal transportation truckers
and other mining employees employed by Corpozulia, the
“counter-march”was reminiscent to the marches seen in 2002 and 2004 during the contested
fight between opposition and supporters of President Hugo Chavez. General
Martinez claimed the counter-march was spontaneous and a surprise to him,
seeing the “overwhelming support for Zuila’s mining
industry.” He failedto explain though how the spontaneous counter-march had organized streets
to be blocked off by police, and a huge rally stage with concert-like
sound equipment had been set up in front of Corpozulia so spontaneously
and to his surprise.

CRAMA, in English stands for the Blue Morphos Radical Autonomous
Collective - as in the striking beautiful butterfly particular to the
region. This Earth First!esque collective has been carrying out a popular
education campaign, visiting various communities slated to be effected by
the expansion of the mining concession and the parallel transportation
projects that are proposed. Making face to face contact with the
communities, conducting workshops, sharing experiences, videos
documentaries and music, this collective has done a considerable job in
bringing necessary information to how all these projects mentioned are
intimately connected. To find out more about how you can help CRAMA in
their struggle to fight coal mining and save the Sierra de Perijá
mountain and rivers in Zulia please see:
Or contact: noalcarbon at riseup.net  Coal in Spanish is called carbon.

web page address that I don´t have yet. BUT A BLOGSPOT IS BEING PUT

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