Ecological Contradictions of the Bolivarian Revolution

by Maria Pilar Garcia Guadilla, El Libertario

Venezuela is a country with a mining and extractive industry economy, whose model development has been based on the exploitation of oil and other non-renewable resources that cause strong impacts on the environment. Over the past decade, the government has blamed the “savage capitalism and neoliberal policies” for the environmental problems—despite the fact that current exploitation of these resources supports the so-called Bolivarian Development Model. This model reproduces these practices labelled as “neoliberal or savage,” causing negative environmental impacts as strong or even stronger than in the past.

Citizen organizations, indigenous communities and human rights organizations have continued to press environmental demands, basing their struggle on the 1999 Constitution, approved by a constituent process, that did incorporate participatory democracy and environmental rights. Many of these rights have been violated, and participatory democracy has not resulted in an
environmental democracy. Conflicts related to resource extraction in fact have
been multiplied since Hugo Chávez became president of the republic.

Persistence of Grievances
Some of the most significant socio-environmental conflicts of this decade in Venezuela have to do with the negative impacts of oil exploitation, mining, and other energy mega-projects. These are proposed both nationally and internationally, to supposedly reduce US dependence and achieve the integration of Latin America and the Caribbean through the Bolivarian Alliance for Our Americas People (ALBA).

The Bolivarian Development Model has been defined by government spokesmen, including President Chávez, as “sustainable, endogenous, equitable and participatory.” The electoral promise made in 1998 by the then-presidential candidate Hugo Chávez to support the struggles that environmentalists and indigenous were waging at the time, along with his environmental discourse and criticism of the “neo-liberalism and savage capitalism,” created an expectation among the social movements that if he became president he would pursue a vision more consonant with environmentally sustainable development.

However, these expectations were frustrated. According to the announcement made in 2005 by President Chávez, oil production was to double by 2012 through the exploitation of 500,000 square kilometers of marine platforms and over 500,000 square kilometers on the mainland. Construction of new refineries and a gas complex in the Gulf of Paria was announced. New mining projects in the Imataca Forest Reserve, a substantial increase in coal mining in the Sierra de Perijá, and increased hydro-power production for export to Brazil were all proclaimed. The economic crisis, along with government inefficiency, have delayed or halted those plans—but if they ever go ahead, it will affect almost the entire national territory, including areas that are now environmentally protected by law. These include Canaima National Park in the Gran Sabana, Imataca Forest Reserve, and the basins of the country main rivers. These plans reflect continuity with the policies of previous governments, branded by President Chávez as “neoliberals, capitalists and predators of the environment.”

Venezuela is also one of the 12 member states of the Initiative for the Integration of South American Regional Infrastructure (IIRSA), which covers 507 projects with high environmental and socio-cultural impacts, involving construction of major new roads, dams, gas pipelines and waterways. The Great Southern Gas Pipeline, a mega-plan to achieve energy integration between Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, must cross 8000 kilometers, so it would effect extremely fragile and biodiverse areas. These mega-plans are also paralyzed or delayed due to the economic crisis, but if they’re activated, the impacts on the environment could be compared with the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which ALBA was conceived as an alternative to.

Resistance Beyond Rhetorical Discourse
The development model based in the exploitation of hydrocarbons that the Venezuelan government has proposed has been strongly questioned by the environmental, indigenous and human rights movements. In various discussions on the subject made at the World Social Forum at Caracas in January 2006, indigenous movements and environmentalists from Venezuela and the world expressed strong criticism of the negative effects of oil exploitation. The largest mobilization at the Forum was a march against expansion of coal development in the Sierra de Perijá.

Currently, there are frequent protests against the negative effects of oil and gas in both Ecuador and Venezuela, frequently via national and international digital networks such as,, soberanĂ­ and; but these spaces are privileged and globalized electronic hubs of resistance against the negative impacts of oil and gas exploitation in tropical countries.

In Venezuela, as in the rest of the globalized world, the logic behind social movements is to confront “neoliberal policy”—regardless of whether the government has an “anti-neoliberal discourse.” Therefore, the Bolivarian Development Model, like those of other governments that are called left, can generate resistance and mobilization.

In the case of Venezuela, such resistance can come both from within and outside Chávez circles, because of the broad ideological heterogeneity of the groups supporting the president. Venezuelans environmental and indigenous movements are by definition anti-neoliberal, and many of their members support the President Chávez. Some transcend the dichotomy between “neo-liberal” and “anti-neoliberal” discourse by questioning the model of “civilization,” and demanding transformation on the political, cultural, gender, social and environmental levels.

So far, the great ideological heterogeneity and class differences among environmentalists has hampered the formulation of collective proposals and contributed to the estrangement of social movements that in the past had strategic alliances with environmentalists. The lack of an objective reading on the socio-environmental crisis and of a joint strategy around alternative collective proposals have contributed to this weakening of protests against the predator model.

For a Consistent Eco-Socialism
The anti-neoliberal discourse of the Bolivarian Development Model can be a first step towards the implementation of a more fair model; nonetheless the rplans and policies of “21st century eco-socialism” in Venezuela militate against it, since the productivist, instrumental and developmental logic has not changed. Can we speak of justice, social equity and solidarity when the development model does not take into account the environmental dimension or intergenerational equity? When it sacrifices the welfare and the right to cultural identity of its indigenous communities? When the model do not recognize the negative impacts of mega-projects such as gas pipelines, oil pipelines, or large infrastructure development? Can we speak of a revolutionary model that does not stimulate more equitable practices and relationships with the environment?

The construction of 21st century eco-socialism in Venezuela must, first, overcome the deep gap between the rhetoric discourse and the reality of the development model; secondly, it requires that the desirable model of civilization is built collectively and not imposed from above as in the present; and, finally, that its source of inspiration is the transition to a post-petroleum society—such as the one envisioned by Salvador de La Plaza, an eminent Venezuelan historian and politician, who warned about the harmful effects of oil and the need to control them to achieve national sovereignty. He noted that for the oil industry to be sustainable requires that the environment costs arising from the exploitation of hydrocarbons needs to be listed in the “accounting”—not only economically but also in the cultural and
socio-environmental spheres.

This view is not very different from Kovel & Lowry (2002), who in their Eco-socialist Manifesto indicate that a society with a high degree of harmony with nature should lead to “the extinction of dependence on fossil fuels,” which they considered attached to industrial capitalism. Getting rid of this dependence “can provide a material base for the liberation of countries oppressed by oil imperialism” as well as reducing global warming
and other problems arising from the ecological crisis.


This text first appeared in the March-April issue of El Libertario, the Caracas-based anarchist journal. It was adopted from a longer article that appeared last year in Spanish in the Journal of Economics and Social Sciences (Universidad Central de Venezuela) entitled “XXI Century Eco-socialism and Bolivarian Development Model: the myths of environmental sustainability and participatory democracy in Venezuela.” Translated by El Liberatio’s Julio Pacheco, it was further edited and condensed by World War 4 Report.


Oil Watch

Movimiento de Afectados por la Industria Petrolera en PaĂ­ses AmazĂłnicos (MAIPPA)

Sociedad de Amigos en Defensa de la Gran Sabana


Venezuela: Government plan endangers the Imataca forest
World Rainforest Movement, October 2003

Salvador de la Plaza, un pensador revolucionario venezolano en el olvido
World Rainforest Movement, Dec. 25, 2009

An Ecosocialist Manifesto
Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy, International Endowment for Democracy, September 2001

See also:

by Hans Bennett, Upside Down World
World War 4 Report, February 2010

Criminalization and Death for Indigenous Struggle
by José Quintero Weir, El Libertario
World War 4 Report, November 2009

South American “Infrastructure Integration” for Free Trade
by Raul Zibechi, IRC Americas Program
World War 4 Report, July 2006


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, June 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Demanding Justice for Missing Migrants

from Frontera NorteSur

A Mexican lawmaker is demanding that government authorities pay more attention to a case of 31 missing migrants. Juan Fernándo Rocha Mier, a state legislator for the National Action Party (PAN) in the central state of QuerĂ©taro, said the same “emphasis” should be placed on locating the disappeared migrants as on safely returning former presidential candidate and millionaire lawyer Diego Fernández de Cevallos.

Presumably kidnapped near his Querétaro ranch earlier this month, the disappearance of Fernández de Cevallos, a historic leader of the center-right PAN, touched off the latest political crisis in Mexico.

Receiving far less attention, a crisis has enveloped families in the indigenous Sierra Gorda region of Querétaro since last March, when 17 local men joined 14 fellow migrants from the states of San Luis Potosí and Hidalgo on an apparently ill-fated journey to the United States. None of the men has been heard of since they left in a bus connected to immigrant smugglers known as coyotes.

“This is worrisome. We are not certain the [government] is looking for them,” said Rocha. “With the disappearance of Diego Fernández de Cevallos, we believe that insecurity in the state is getting worse. If this happens to a political figure like him, what can the rest of us common citizens expect?”

According to relatives of the missing men, their loved ones each paid $2,500 for transportation on a bus to the US border. Based on the account of one of coyotes, family members told a Mexican reporter the vehicle was intercepted by armed men dressed in black before it arrived to the municipality of Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas, across the Rio Grande from Texas.

If the coyote’s account is true, it means the men vanished in a region of Tamaulipas which has been in turmoil since all-out war broke out between the Gulf and Zetas drug cartels last February.

The Zetas reportedly had long controlled a stretch of the route in which the missing men traveled, charging a fee of 1500 pesos for each migrant who passed through the area. However, the wife of one of the missing men said immigrant smugglers insisted the men who halted the bus were not Zetas but members of another “mafia.”

According to the story attributed to smugglers, the men could have been kidnapped to work in the drug industry. Alternatively, it is not publicly known if the migrants could have been mistaken for gunmen sent to reinforce one of the cartels. The warring groups have brought in outsiders, including Guatemalans, to serve as foot soldiers in the bloody conflict over economic and political control of Tamaulipas.

The vanished men set out from an impoverished region that is increasingly dependent on dollars from migrants working in the United States. In the municipality of Landa de Matamoros, from where the migrants originated, jobs, schools and basic infrastructure all are in short supply. Nearly half of all young people 15 years of age or older have not finished elementary school, and 22 percent are illiterate.

In Tres Lagunas, home of three of the missing migrants, at least one member of the 300 families inhabiting the community has migrated to El Norte. According to Mexico’s National Population Council, migrant remittances received in QuerĂ©taro soared from $71 million in 1995 to $364 million in 2009.

A woman identified only as Socorro, mother of a missing 17-year-old who went on the bus trip, said some family members did not file formal complaints because of fear they might be killed for exposing the disappearances.

In the aftermath of the mass disappearance, Queretaro Governor José Calzada Rovirosa said he contacted the governors of San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon to aid in the search for the migrants.


This story first appeared May 24 on Frontera NorteSur.

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: narcos declare open season on politicians
World War 4 Report, May 17, 2010


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, June 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution



From Copenhagen to Cochabamba to CancĂşn

by Karah Woodward, The Indypendent

TIQUIPAYA, Bolivia — Bolivian President Evo Morales spoke for many developing nations last December when he rejected the United Nation’s Copenhagen Accord as “an agreement reached between the world’s biggest polluters that is based on the exclusion of the very countries, communities and peoples who will suffer most from the consequences of climate change.”

Many of those most disappointed in the talks were enthusiastic participants in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change called by Morales from April 19 to 22. With an emphasis on the inclusion of indigenous voices and the “rights of Mother Earth,” people from over 120 nations and organizations gathered in Tiquipaya, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, to debate how to confront the climate crisis.

“We are here to establish a different position that maybe will influence the processes in the future,” said Vera Mugittu, a representative of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, “so that Africa can have a better deal.”

That deal was developed during four days of intense meetings among 17 working groups, where genuine dialogue was encouraged. Topics varied from the rights of Mother Earth and harmony with Mother Nature to climate debt and climate justice. “Whether we agreed or whether we disagreed, it didn’t matter,” said Shetal Shah, who worked with the Bolivian Mission to the United Nations to organize the summit, “we’re having the dialogue.”

Bolivia—a multiethnic socialist state—shaped the talks by fostering a critique of the capitalist system and its push for market- based solutions to solving the climate crisis. “Either capitalism lives or Mother Earth lives,” said Morales on the opening day of the summit. Many participants agreed. Projects to protect the environment “cannot ignore the structural changes that have to happen,” said Ruth Kaplan with the Alliance for Democracy. “Otherwise, it’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. And yes, it’s a revolution and we need that kind of revolution.”

Other participants argued anti-capitalist rhetoric would stall progress in negotiations with wealthy countries. “The climate change movement needs to be an environmental movement” and not a social revolution, said Adam Zemans, director of Environment Bolivia. He said trying to overthrow capitalism while combating climate change is “counterproductive.”

Many of the working groups benefited from learning about regional struggles, and became more familiar with the diverse points of view held by their colleagues. While not in total consensus on all points, they reached agreements that will be useful rallying points for future climate talks.

An unofficial working group, known as Table 18, included a critique of Bolivia’s strategies for economic development that include mining and drilling for oil and gas. Among the participants were residents of Salar de Uyuni, who were protesting a transnational mining company at the same time of the conference. The group’s final agreement questioned “predatory and consumerist logic—the logic of death based on developmentalism and neo-extractivism.”

There was general support for the creation of an International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal. The tribunal would punish states, transnational corporations or people who violate agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, which currently lacks an enforcement mechanism. However, such a tribunal would require deep reform within the United Nations, leading some to favor an arbitrative body that would resolve disputes over biodiversity, fresh water access, habitats and health.

Ultimately, the People’s Agreement presented at the conference’s closing ceremony identified the capitalist system in wealthy countries as the main driver of climate change. It called for restorative justice through an Adaptation Fund—financed by 6% of the Gross Domestic Product of developed nations—that would assist countries in dealing with the impact of climate change. This includes reduced food security, the loss of water due to retreating glaciers, more frequent and intense “natural” disasters, an increase in mosquito-borne diseases, and more forest fires. The agreement also demanded the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will prevent global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius.

“By aggregating the voluntary commitments in the [failed] Copenhagen Accord, we are talking about a temperature increase of at least four degrees,” said Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International. That “increase in temperature clearly means a death sentence to Africa, to the small island states, to the Arctic states and to all the vulnerable nations.”

After the World People’s Conference, it is unlikely such an agreement can be forced on these nations again. President Morales, along with an international delegation representing civil society, formally delivered the People’s Agreement on May 7 to UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon—the first step toward influencing talks during the next UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, this December in CancĂşn, Mexico.


Karah Woodward produces the Bolivia Transition Project website.

This story first appeared May 12 in The Indypendent, publication of the New York City Independent Media Center.


World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth

Pan African Climate Justice Alliance

Alliance for Democracy

Friends of the Earth International

From our Daily Report:

Evo Morales delivers Cochabamba climate summit resolutions to United Nations
World War 4 Report, May 10, 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, June 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Peasants Protest Irrigation Megaproject

by Milagros Salazar, Tierramérica

The Olmos megaproject, which will divert water from the Huancabamba River through a trans-Andean tunnel to desert land along Peru’s northern coast, is being presented as a catalyst for farm development, but disputes are heating up over land, crops and water.

The goal of moving water from the Atlantic side of the continental divide to the Pacific side for the Olmos hydroelectric and irrigation plan in the northwestern region of Lamayeque has been an 80-year dream, with an endless series of steps forwards and backwards.

In the original plan, there were three phases: diverting the Huancabamba River, which comes from the mountains of the Piura region, through a tunnel under the Andes Mountains; the construction of a hydroelectric complex; and the irrigation of 110,000 hectares in the coastal valley of Olmos. In March 2006, the Brazilian firm Odebrecht won the bid to build the diversion. In its first stage it would move some 400 million cubic meters of water – of the 750 million initially projected.

Odebrecht also was put in charge of the irrigation project, estimated at more than 200 million dollars. But the hydroelectric plans are on hold.

In the opinion of the Olmos Special Project’s management, it is the cure-all for Peru. The nearly 20-kilometer tunnel under the mountains is being touted on US television’s Discovery Channel as the world’s second longest.

According to a Discovery report, some 2.5 million cubic meters of water will reach the country’s poorest farmers if the expansion of the initial plan is carried out.

What is certain is that the 38,000 hectares to be irrigated in the first phase do not belong to small or even medium farms.

They are lands that the Alberto Fujimori government (1990-2000) expropriated from the peasant community of Olmos, and will be put up for sale in lots of at least 1,000 hectares at a base price of 4,100 dollars each.

“But the peasant farmers are waiting expectantly anyway, because they think that they will be able to irrigate their land. That is going to generate conflict, Luis Carbajal, secretary of the non-governmental Defense Committee of Lambayeque Megaprojects, told TierramĂ©rica.

Olmos general manager Enrique Salazar confirmed that the lots will be sold to “entrepreneurs who are economically solvent and can confront a demanding agro-export market.”

“This is not designed for small properties. The idea is to generate permanent units of production so that the farmers have employment, elevate their standard of living, and move beyond the forgotten peasant class,” he told TierramĂ©rica.

In addition, he said, 5,500 hectares of land belonging to farmers in the old valley of Olmos will be irrigated, who would pay Odebrecht for it.

According to the Defense Committee’s Carbajal, such an approach will lead to a land invasion. And it is likely that the small farmers will begin to cut down native forests of carob, zapote, huarango and hualtaco, to replace them with exportable le crops, such as asparagus or artichokes.

Juan Sandoval, natural resources manager for the regional government of Lambayeque, said efforts are under way to set aside two conservation areas in order to reduce harm to flora and fauna. But he acknowledged it is insufficient and that the 38,000 hectares include “virgin lands with forests, both thin and dense.”

Carbajal noted that the project had included a hydroelectric component to make use of the waterfall. But because that phase was suspended, 80 million cubic meters of water of the 400 million needed for the entire area will go to waste, he said.

The Lambayeque Defense Committee filed a complaint against the regional government with the Comptroller General’s office for allegedly short-valuing the project. Rejected there, the complaint went to the Attorney General’s Office, where it is still being reviewed.

The controversy even extended to the Cabinet of President Alan García. Economy Minister Mercedes Aráoz argued about the Odebrecht budget for irrigation with Prime Minister Javier Velásquez Quesquén, who thought it should be improved.

Former economy minister Cecilia Blume explained to Tierramérica that the government provided 70 million dollars to Lambayeque for the diversion project, and served as guarantor for the remaining 330 million dollars needed for the investment. That sum should be generated by the sale of government-owned lands in Olmos.

However, the value of the land, according to Blume, depends on the irrigation. If they can only count on having water half the day, as Odebrecht proposed, the land prices will fall, and with it, the funds to pay for the diversion.

As the result of an Apr. 13 meeting between the government and Odebrecht, according to an announcement by Aráoz, the company improved its proposal.

“Before, even with all the revenues, the irrigation project was only going to provide 74 million dollars to the people in 200 years. Today we can say there will be 98 million in 40 years, which means the payment of 35 percent of the diversion in that period,” she told the local press.

The payment for the lands, said Aráoz, will be immediate, and the time period to complete the sale of the 38,000 hectares is 20 months.


This story first appeared April 26 on Tierramérica.


Proyecto Especial Olmos

From our Daily Report:

Peru: no global warming skeptics in Huaraz
World War 4 Report, Sept. 22, 2009


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, June 1, 2010
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Planet Watch

New oil disaster looms in North Sea

Ninety oil workers have been evacuated from a North Sea rig as engineers fight to control a huge build-up of pressure in a well that may have the potential to blow up the platform.