Why Global Environmentalists Are Silent on Venezuela’s Mining Crisis
By Isaac Nahon-Serfaty
Venezuela is on a path towards environmental devastation.
In 2016, President Nicolás Maduro opened a large swath of Venezuela to national and foreign mining companies. He was following in the footsteps of his predecessor Hugo Chávez, who first announced plans for the Orinoco Mining Belt, or the Arco Minero del Orinoco.
The vast area, some 112,000 square kilometers, covers 12 percent of the Venezuelan territory. It crosses rich tropical forests, including the Sierra de Imataca in the east and the centrally located El Caura, as well as the Orinoco and Caroní river basins.
These are all fragile ecosystems, containing the sources of water and plant life that provide the mechanisms that regulate the environment and the generation of hydro-energy. They could be seriously affected by such an extensive mining project that includes legally protected environmental preserves and Indigenous communities.
Global Partners in Ecocide
In the two years since the first mine broke ground, 200 hectares of forest were lost between December 2016 and April 2017.
Deforestation and pollution from the use of mercury have spread to Canaima National Park, even though it's a protected area by Venezuelan law. Both international corporations and the Venezuelan military—responsible by law to protect the area—are to blame for this environmental devastation, according to experts in the area.
So why aren't any of the global environmental organizations speaking out about it?
As a Canadian-Venezuelan journalist and scholar, I've been trying to answer this paradoxical riddle.
The Orinoco Mining Belt has large reserves of coltan (a mineral coveted by the electronics industry), bauxite, diamonds and gold. Roberto Mirabal, who leads the mining ministry, puts their value at about US$2 trillion.
Military Dirty Business
Under a scheme of strategic partnerships, the Venezuelan government gave mining concessions to a number of companies based in China, Russia, Canada, South Africa, the Republic of Congo and Australia in 2016.
But foreign companies were pushed out and replaced by unregulated miners, backed by the military in 2017.
In 2016, to give legitimacy to the exploitation of mineral resources by the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB), Maduro created CAMIMPEG, Venezuela's military-run oil and mining company.
The FANB has allegedly been involved in diamond and gold smuggling, swindling artisanal miners and working with guerrilla groups, including Colombia's National Liberation Army and gangs, well before the creation of CAMIMPEG.
The Indigenous peoples living within the Orinoco Mining Belt have been the main victims of the military interventions in the mining regions. In an extensive report, journalist Edgar López has documented the horrors associated with the exploration of the mining belt, calling it a destructive cocktail of "crime, corruption and cyanide."
Blind Global Greens
Within Venezuela, people are speaking out against the mining activity.
Chávez's former ministers and officers have tried to stop the mining there, but their actions were dismissed by Venezuela's highest court. And several Venezuelan non-governmental organizations have also warned against the mining belt's harmful impacts, to no avail.
But little has been said about Venezuela's mining activity at the international level.
Top environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have been silent.
As of June 2018, there was no mention of Venezuela on the Greenpeace international website, "Orinoco mining" on the WWF website (apart from an article about sustainable fishing in Colombia) or the Arco Minero.
Other organizations such as MiningWatch Canada have not released a public statement about the participation of Gold Reserve—a gold mining company headquartered in Washington state—in the Arco, beyond a recent timid tweet after being pressed to say something about the partnership between the Canadian mining corporation and the Venezuelan regime.
These global green activists are usually noisy—what might be behind their surprising silence?
Here are some possibilities:
First, despite having highly polluting industries such as oil and mining, Venezuela has been off the radar of the big environmental NGOs because it was once considered a middle-income country. A perceptual bias could be guiding the advocacy activities of such organizations, who have been very vocal in some cases (e.g. Chevron in Ecuador).
Second, Chávez's "leftist revolution," which favoured the poor, has granted Venezuela a benevolent image (now widely denied), exonerating it from suspicions of ecocide.
In a recent essay, Venezuelan Prof. Gisela Kozak Rovero suggests that these leftist ideals are also influencing academia: "The appropriation of leftist discourse … has allowed the Bolivarian revolution to build alliances with academics in different latitudes and the promotion of militancy disguised as research…."
The same could be said of some green progressives who have chosen ideological blindness instead of facing the truth about the ecological crime that is being committed in Venezuela.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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