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(en) Venezuela, Socialism to the Highest Bidder - Prepared by Nachie, for the Red & Anarchist Action Network (RAAN) II. (2/9)

Date Mon, 03 Jul 2006 09:23:38 +0300

In fact, Chávez provides a very welcoming environment for just
about anyone. The man is damn charismatic! It's like an anarchist
sport just to see how long you can watch the president give a speech
before saying, "hey maybe he's not so bad".
His relationship to the people is unlike anything I've ever seen. They
love him. It sounds cliché, but they see themselves in him and
have concentrated their hopes into his personage. His personality
cult has been built slowly over thousands of hours of televised
appearances and meetings with all sorts of different people - and it
all began with that little minute in 1992. To give an example of how
his "magic" sometimes plays out, it might be useful to relate what I
saw of a televised conference in which Chávez presented a series of
grants for different "endogenous" community projects to be
implemented through the new Bolivarian High Schools. In an
auditorium filled with cheering, uniformed school children, Chávez
and several ministers listened as one by one, representatives of the
nation's Bolivarian students reported on the development of their
new educational institutions.

One young woman, poised to read off the achievements of her
school, excused herself and instead used the opportunity to ask the
president on national television what he planned to do about the
confusion over school uniforms, which come in both blue and beige.
The girl wanted to know when they could expect a single color for all
school uniforms, and the crowd roared with approval at seeing
Chávez caught off guard by this friendly interrogation.

The Venezuelans I had been watching the broadcast with began to
laugh with disbelief, saying, "Wow - that little girl just fixed those
stupid uniforms!" as on screen, Chávez played up his bewilderment
and responded by calling out possible colors for new uniforms, after
each of which the crowd of students would cry out for approval or

To be sure, these little incidents are not necessarily indicative of an
actual "revolutionary democracy" and given Chávez' history of
promising various things in the heat of the moment and never
following up on them (such as ridding his country of Genetically
Modified food companies such as Monsanto), often times do not
mean anything at all. Some of the more cynical might even point out
that such spectacles could be easily pre-planned in order to look
spontaneous and paint a human face on the president. Regardless,
the phenomenon they represent and feed is central to any
understanding of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Hugo Chávez spends more time on television than probably any
other politician, and practically all government ceremonies at which
he speaks are seen as opportunities to rearticulate his vision of the
revolution before a national audience. His weekly "Aló Presidente"
program is only the tip of the iceberg in this nonstop propaganda
blitz. The key to appreciating all this aritime is to contrast it with
other politicians of past and present, both national and international.
George W. Bush for instance, is infamous for spending as little time
as possible in front of the cameras, and only speaking briefly
whenever he is. Next to this example and the prior tradition of
politics in Venezuela, Chávez' constant rhetoric and openness to
the media creates the impression of a process that is constantly
developing with the people's involvement - a societal discussion in
which he can continually serve as the moderator.

There is a small but vocal group of radicals, including prominent
members of anarchist groups, who have personally met Chávez in
the past and confide that this "dialogue" is a sham, and his actual
personality is quite authoritarian. Douglas Bravo himself is now one
of the major voices in this strand of criticism, and insists that
Chávez is nostalgic over his 1992 coup attempt, during which he
claims that the future president was openly disdainful of the
"unorganized masses" and saw the revolutionary project as the
exclusive role of the armed forces, only to be rubber-stamped by the
popular movements. In a way this is not difficult to believe,
especially given the elevation of February 4th to a national holiday
that totally eclipses Chávez' actual election in terms of relevance to
"the process". On the other hand, the overwhelmingly vocal majority
of the Venezuelan working class seems totally convinced of his
sincerity, though not that of his immediate allies.

For the sake of this text as well as RAAN's future organizing around
Venezuela, I must insist that the question of whether Chávez - as a
single man - is sincere is incredibly irrelevant. For anarchists in
particular, the detail of whether or not to support Chávez is a
massive distraction that can only lead to divisiveness within the
movement and accusations of "petty-bourgeois influence" from
without. Regardless of whether or not Chávez is a legitimate
revolutionary "leader", the only tactical course for all revolutionaries
remains as it ever was: to press for autonomous and
horizontally-applied community and workers' organization and
action against capitalism, focusing on a sustainability independent of
all governments, "revolutionary" or not, and especially the limited
political and even natural life of any single figure.


"The Comandante may shout whatever insults he likes against
Bush, but that loud-mouthed anti-imperialism means nothing as
long as he continues giving Chevron, Conoco-Phillips or Repsol the
control of our reserves of oil and natural gas, continues giving
Telefonica our communications, giving Grupo Santander and BBV
our bank sector, giving Crystallex our gold mines and to Vale do Rio
Doce or Peabody our coal reserves." - Comision de Relaciones
Anarquistas (CRA), Venezuela

Hugo Chávez is a pragmatist who on more than one occasion has
said that he does "not believe we are living in an age of proletarian
revolutions". So the question becomes, just where the hell is this
"Socialismo Bolivariano" supposed to come from, then?

Criticizing the current Venezuelan regime, particularly from within
the North American movement, is a tricky proposition. There are
more than enough people out there wearing red berets and ready to
denounce any "attack" against Chávez as tacit support for a US
coup. This tendency is of course rather prevalent in Venezuela, and
in fact is really quite analogous to the Bush doctrine of either being
"with us or against us" - a comparison that needs to be made as
much as possible. To those who say that criticizing Chávez hands
weapons to the enemy, we must be firm in saying that to not do so is
infinitely more dangerous. Those who speak at any time of a
"revolutionary government" have, to recall Vaneigem, "a corpse in
their mouth".

The Venezuela issue is so interesting, so very germane to the Red &
Anarchist Action Network, because to understand it fully one needs
a synthesis of both classical anarchist and Marxist critiques.

From the anarchist side, we have a rejection of all power structures
and particularly the vertical implementation of aid or development.
So no, of course it's not "bad" that Chávez is setting up free health
care clinics, and of course it's not "bad" that people are learning how
to read and write for the first time, but the extreme rigidity of these
programs breeds a direct dependence on state structures that
harkens back to the paternalism of the 1970's. Thus when the leftists
exclaim that Chávez has gotten rid of school fees (allowing 600,000
more children to attend class) and RAAN (with its principles calling
for the abolition of institutional schooling) is hopelessly "bourgeois"
and cannot understand the importance of that in a "Third World"
nation, we must explain that Chávez has bought his way through
the revolution with frequent "gifts" (such as free school uniforms)
and that not only was free schooling already available during the
populist years, but it was abandoned due to the unsustainability of
the oil-centric economic dependency that Chávez has not only
refused to confront, but has in fact deepened exponentially.

We envision self-managed communities with the ability to
independently educate themselves according to their local custom
via a free access to information and resources. The vertical
implementation of government programs seeks to "push through" a
"revolution" that in many cases doesn't actually exist at the level of
grassroots consciousness, or at least not in the format specified by
the government decrees. This culture of "charity" and dependency is
ultimately counter-revolutionary since it ossifies the state
bureaucracy and makes it nearly impossible for the people to defend
themselves or carry through the revolution in the absence of a
"friendly" central government or armed forces - conditions that
simply cannot be taken as given!

There are of course exceptions to this - for instance in the
autonomous community of La Vega, (a historically combative
settlement 40 minutes outside of Caracas, from where the police
have been expelled) Mision Ribas and other social programs are
directly run by the most active community organizers, without much
interference by the state. The problem is, La Vega is not a
representative community in Venezuela. Hugo Chávez continually
calls, day and night, for the people to organize themselves.
Repeatedly he states that the revolution can only go through if the
people are organized enough to really make it happen. Such
comments as these are always pointed to by those who would insist
that Chávez is sincere in his project. I would respond that it really
doesn't matter, and that "with" him or "against" him, the task
remains to organize autonomous communities capable of breaking
all dependence on Chávez or the guy who comes after him, even if
having to utilize government handouts along the way. The problem
is, this isn't what's happening.

Chávez will decree that by such and such a date, some odd number
of localized "cooperatives" will be ready to extend whatever the new
project for that month is into a like number of communities across
Venezuela. When the deadline comes, less than a third of these
cooperatives have actually gotten themselves together, and the
project is just dropped from above onto the remaining communities.
It is very important to note, these Misiones do not surpass the token
level of care already provided for during previous oil bonanzas. Barrio
Adentro, for instance, has three levels. The first are the preventative
care clinics directly in the neighborhoods that we hear so much
about, which aren't good for much more than a band-aid. The
second level encompasses the specialized trauma centers, which
only exist in select communities, anyway. And the third level is
supposedly the public central hospitals of Venezuela, which remain
completely inadequate and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, food consumption is up while actual nutrition is down,
and "tropical" diseases like Malaria and Tuberculosis are shockingly
on the rise. But none of this matters, because all Chávez needs to
do is build another Barrio Adentro and the international Left will
shower praise on him like he saved the world. With such tactics he
actually spends less on the social programs than he would on any
media campaign necessary to promote them, and draws attention
away from the fact that all of this is still based on one thing - oil.

This is where the Marxist analysis comes in. In the rush to support
an emerging "revolutionary" situation in South America, many
radicals have completely forgotten that capitalism is not just some
form of government, but a mode of production that is not isolated in
one nation, class, or done away with simply by having the workers
run "their" own factories. Chávez very skillfully keeps the attention
on policy differences with the US government so as to throw up a
smokescreen with which to hide the fact that he is actually marching
right in step with neo-liberal globalization's grand scheme for the

What possible use is it to go on and on about how unjust the war in
Iraq is, for instance, when Halliburton remains the chief services
contractor for PDVSA? How enormously distracting is it for
Chávez to play verbal war games with Condoleezza Rice while
welcoming Chevron - the murderous company she once directed -
into the country with open arms, even calling them "great friends of
the revolutionary process"?

On the one hand, Venezuela's oil nationalization left much of the
industry's infrastructure undeveloped, and building relationships
with the transnationals is the only way to overcome this without
immediately bankrupting the country. Chávez certainly can't hope
to go from relying solely on oil and importing up to 80% of
Venezuela's food, to a completely "sovereign" and self-sufficient
nation overnight... but on the other hand there is absolutely nothing
to suggest that he is doing anything other than trying to deepen this
dependency. Under the banner of socialism and with slogans of
"development", Chávez has presided over the biggest handover of
national resources in Venezuela's history.

And how else could they possibly hope to do it? In late 2003 Bolivia
nearly went through a revolution just at the suggestion of
privatization. Chávez, on the other hand, is such a "revolutionary"
that he can sign over the rights to the massive offshore Deltana
Platform - which will create a "dead zone" in the ocean and have
access to more gas reserves than ALL of Bolivia combined - and
nobody will even realize that it just happened!

For Chávez, anything that brings in money from the country's
energy reserves (combined, the largest in the world) is positive. His
single driving goal is to convert Venezuela into the number one
energy producing country on earth - and for this to happen he relies
not only on the transnationals, but the continuity of the capitalist
system that consumes that energy. Despite scattered references to
"the environment", he has absolutely no intention of developing or
providing the alternative energy solutions necessary to reduce
economic dependency on the oil market. In fact, the only type of
energy Chávez seems to be interested in that doesn't come from
gas, petrol, or coal... is nuclear.

But that's probably a long way off. After all, he recently declared that
under his government the integration of South America will become
reality, and that Venezuela can provide for the region's energy needs
for the next 200 years - as if the ecosystem could possibly survive
that much more sustained consumption! To match the global
South's level of "development" with that of the North (because of
course, that's what a prosperous socialist society should look like) is
not only an ecological catastrophe, it's exactly what international
capital demands! Moreover, it's a path completely removed from the
national reality, as Venezuela has already received 60% of its energy
from hydroelectric sources for some time and hardly needs a massive
expansion in its oil production except as a exporter for the global

Chávez won big brownie points with the anti-globalization
movement by coming out strong against the Free Trade Area of the
Americas, (FTAA, or ALCA in Spanish) and never stopped his
tirade against it until it was clear that it would not be going through.
He even had the brilliant idea of creating "ALBA", the Bolivarian
Alternative for the Americas. The only problem is, ALBA didn't
even really exist until Evo Morales signed on in late April, and
unless Daniel Ortega becomes president of Nicaragua it is unclear if
any other countries will be willing to sign up. In theory it's a
wonderful ideal of mutual aid whereby countries trade the services
they specialize in without any emphasis on profit, with examples
being the literacy, oil-for-doctors, and spinoff programs with Cuba.
Chávez pushes the issue whenever he can and throws out oil gifts
across the Caribbean, defiant that ALBA (which spells out "dawn")
will be the future. In fact, there seems to be no public framework to
define ALBA aside from some of Chávez' own essays, which make
sure to state that the project could never serve as "a barrier to the
development of technology" in the participating countries. While
ALBA shows a lot of potential and could one day even redefine
international trade, (though not free it from the capitalist context) at
this point it does not pass for more than a distraction when
compared to Venezuela's much larger economic integration ventures
under IIRSA.


Unlike the FTAA, which would not have affected the energy sector
and therefore really wouldn't have mattered to Venezuela's
mono-economy in the first place, IIRSA (Integracion de la
Infraestructura Regional Sur Americana) is all about Chávez'
favorite subject. Financed by the Corporación Andina de Fomento
(CAF, which in turn gets money from the International Monetary
Fund), IIRSA is a longstanding development plan of the
multinationals that is now being repainted as "nationalist". Of
course, any similarities between IIRSA and what Chávez is calling
a revolution are entirely coincidental.

IIRSA links up with other regional projects such as Plan Puebla
Panama (PPP) to create the best possible environment for
"Infrastructure Integration". In Venezuela the best example of this
strategy can be found in the Western state of Zulia, which borders
Colombia and contains some of the most important "energy
reserves" in the country.

Zulia is where you hear about the FARC running columns around
on Venezuelan soil. It's 100% true, by the way. The paramilitaries
are, of course, also coming over with the drug trade, (and clashing
with the FAN) and even Colombian government troops cut through
to shave time off marching in their own territory. More interestingly,
it's the center of the most important social struggle in Venezuela - as
shall be discussed below.

For IIRSA, Zulia is most important because of the role it can play in
helping both national and Colombian coal exports reach their final
destinations. Already in the works are a network of highways that
will cut across Amazonian territory, a bridge over the enormous
Lake Maracaibo, and the construction of a massive international port
with which to handle those coal shipments. The entire development
package has been put together with a mind towards easier access to
"competitive" markets in Europe and North America, and is taking
place against a backdrop of several shady coincidences. Chief among
these is that prior to the signings of the relevant agreements with
Colombia, Chávez had regularly criticized his counterpart, the
"paramilitary with a necktie" Alvaro Uribe, for being a member of
the oligarchy and a US puppet. After these integration deals went
through, Chávez switched his vitriol to Mexican president Vincente
Fox, who is now seen as the chief lapdog in the region.
Unsurprisingly, relations between Venezuela and Colombia are now
really rather smooth. Even more interesting, however, is that the port
in question was to be named "Puerto América" (in the original
plans which of course pre-date Chávez) but has now been
rechristened "Puerto Bolívar", no doubt so as to make any voice
against it sound unpatriotic by default...

Puerto Bolívar is set to totally displace fishing communities on the
islands of San Bernardo, San Carlos, and Zapara, and the
construction of Puente Padilla over Lake Maracaibo is being done
without any respect to studies conducted by the government itself,
which indicate that strong winds in the area (over 100 km/h) will lift
coal dust from the transport trucks and, along with the opening of
several new mines in Venezuelan territory, contaminate the entire
region's water supply including the rivers Socuy, Maché, and
Orinoco (which is the biggest reserve in the Western hemisphere) as
well as Embalse Manuelote, the most important reservoir in
Northeast Zulia. Directly affected will be the water supply to the city
of Maracaibo, Zulia's state capital. Of course, the construction of
this bridge and its connected projects was originally proposed by
Carlos Andrés Pérez as part of wider neoliberal policies, and
was even listed by Chávez as a justification for his 1992 coup.

It is hardly the first time that the current government has gone back
on its word regarding planned infrastructure development. In a
little-publicized struggle that has been all but forgotten in the face of
Chavismo, the indigenous Pémon population spent the majority of
2000-2002 fighting against the construction of a series of inefficient
and outdated energy towers cutting through their people's sacred
lands. The project had originally been signed in 1997 by the Caldera
government with then president of Brazil Fernando Henrique
Cardoso, and Chávez had made it a campaign pledge to "review"
the project, which under the future Bolivarian Constitution should
never have been allowed. Of course once in office, Chávez declared
the tenido electrico to be a "geopolitical necessity" that would not to
be stopped by "foreign interests".

By foreign interests, Chávez specifically meant ecologismo del
Norte, or "Northern ecology". In Venezuela the environmental
movement that began in the 80's has long been stigmatized as a
privileged interest group from the North, out of touch with reality -
how, after all, could an "undeveloped" nation have problems with
pollution? In fact, already in the 80's there were many pressing
environmental issues such as the contamination of Lake Maracaibo
and release of mercury into the ecosystem by the mining industries.
As we shall see, nowadays this idea of "ecologismo del Norte" is
skillfully combined with "anti-imperialism" to harshly silence all
movements that could be considered "green", which in Zulia means
indigenous peoples opposed to the destruction of their ancestral
homelands in the name of neo-liberal energy exploitation.

In the case of the Pémon, this situation led to their adoption of
direct action tactics and the toppling of seven electrical towers in
their territory - of course, this was denounced as "terrorism" (where
have we heard that before?) by Chávez. Events came to a head on
May 28th, 2002 when Pémon activist Miguel Lanz was murdered
by Sgt. Jonathan Ortiz of the FAN. In July of that year, Pémon
activists traveled to Caracas to denounce the killing and present a
request for legal action to Chávez on his weekly call-in show, Aló
Presidente. After having their demands passed back and forth
between the various levels of bureaucracy lurking behind the
program's "unscripted" image, Minister of Education, Culture, and
Sport Aristóbulo Istrúiz denied them, saying, "Chica, you are
crazy. This can't go on the air, what are you thinking? You think
we're going to disparage our armed forces? What you are is crazy."

This is the reality of a "left-wing" government that was drawn
directly out of, and remains dependent on, the armed forces: of an
"anti-imperialist" government that rhetorically positions itself
"against" Christopher Columbus, but in full cooperation with the
Spanish banks that control the nation's finances - and of course,
who do you think ultimately owns those banks?

Foreign influence over Venezuela's economy does not only extend
through the energy sector, though that is clearly its most important
manifestation. Electricity in Caracas, traditionally owned by a
powerful local family, is now set to be internationalized by H Corp.
The finance sector is totally owned by transnationals - Banco De
Venezuela by Santander, Banco Provincial by Banco Bisbao, (which
illegally gave funds to Chávez' 1998 campaign) Seguros Caracas by
Liberty Mutual, and the list goes on. The security sector is almost
totally controlled by a Spanish company, as is Movistar, one of the
nation's largest cellular service providers. Two of other big ones,
CanTV and MovilNet, are both owned by Verizon. In 2004, former
US President (and "neutral" advocate for Capital-D Democracy in
South America) Jimmy Carter arranged a meeting between Hugo
Chávez and Gustavo Cisneros, a Venezuelan media mogul
considered by Forbes to be among the world's richest men. Shortly
after, the Cisneros Group bought Digitel, leaving the nation's
telecom sector entirely in the hands of the multinationals.


None of this is paid any serious attention of course, because the only
important strategic industry (at least for now) is PDVSA, which
thankfully "belongs to the people". Or does it?

Beginning this year, foreign multinationals will no longer have the
ability to make contractual agreements with PDVSA regarding their
operations in certain areas of the industry. Instead, they will enter
into "partnerships" where the state will always retain 51% of
ownership. These partnerships are decided through a system of
"bids" where different companies become "winners" in the contest to
see who gets to help Venezuela move into the next century. On the
surface, it seems like this might be a "fair" deal in which the nation
gets to keep a majority share in its resources, even at the cost of the
bidding contest's ludicrous spectacle. In reality however, while
previously companies such as Chevron-Texaco would only be
contracted for certain projects, (the building of a refinery, for
instance) they will now be the literal owners of 49% of whatever
projects are undertaken. When you consider that the contracts
Chávez is pushing tend to last for up to 60 years, this amounts to
nothing less than the privitization of PDVSA!

Like everything else, these processes are declared "socialist" and
then through various manipulative techniques are sold off to a
cheering international Left and a skeptical populace that had no say
in their original design (as it took place behind closed doors, as
always). Many fans of Chávez are of course quick to point out that
new energy deals with China and India will cut Venezuela's reliance
on the US as a market for oil, but this simply isn't true. When China
puts money into Venezuelan energy it doesn't mean that they're
buying oil for themselves, but that they're investing in national
production that will still - according to the laws of the capitalist
market - go to whoever is ready to pay cash on the barrelhead for it.
Sin embargo, the United States.

The government of Hugo Chávez has basically had the affect of
turning Venezuelan territory into a magical wonderland where the
reality of international capitalism and the interests of the
conglomerates who benefit from it are seemingly dissolved into a
homogenous revolutionary development that is somehow
"participatory" for the masses. This takes place regardless of what
could be called any "long-term" strategy for revolution, as it is only
the capitalist objectives that are being rammed through right now.
Their logic being, it won't matter how socialist Venezuela is
tomorrow if access to its energy reserves can be locked down in the
meantime - no matter what the cost to the people or environment.

There is seemingly no end to the number of longstanding neo-liberal
development schemes that can now be pushed through without
protest in the name of solidarity, South American economic
integration, or "exporting the revolution". Many of these projects
were originally proposals of the Caldera government that are only
now seeing the light of day, such as the opening up of the Imataca
natural reserve to extensive logging and gold mining operations that
began in 2002. Perhaps the largest, however, is an 8,000 km
trans-Amazonic gas pipeline that would stretch from Caracas to
Buenos Airies, providing energy to Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay
(another key US ally) along the way. Despite PDVSA's own
admission that the pipeline carries "more operational risks" than
petrol, and government-funded studies predicting an "ecological
catastrophe", the project is being hailed as the crown jewel of
integración, a milestone in South America's economic development
that will allow Venezuela to provide the continent with the centuries
of energy necessary to match the insane consumerism of the North.

Such pipelines are well known for being prime targets of sabotage
and are unreliable delivery systems, regardless. The similar - but
significantly smaller - Camisea pipeline in Peru has had four major
ruptures since becoming operational in 2004, and Amazon Watch
has already described it as "arguably the most damaging project in
the Amazon Basin". In addition, gas pipelines uniformly suffer from
a continuous corrosion that either leads to more spills or simply
creates a massive filter for toxins.

However, it is in fact in the area of coal exploitation that we find a
convergence between the most pressing issues of ecology, national
sovereignty, and indigenous liberation in Venezuela.


On November 13th of 2003, Hugo Chávez announced that
Venezuela would be tripling its coal production, principally through
the incredibly destructive method of open pit mining - again, keep in
mind that Venezuela does not actually need this energy for its own
development, and the primary consumers of coal in the near future
will continue to be the United States and Europe. It hardly seems a
strategy for reducing reliance on Northern markets, particularly as
this desarollo will rely directly on the participation of several
multinational companies, and is in fact a welcome mat for them to
enter the country.

The increase in production is to be centered in a region of Zulia
known as the Sierra del Perijá, which is home to hundreds of
families from indigenous Wayuú, Yukpa, Barí, and Japreria
tribes. Several of these groups have already suffered greatly as a
result of mining operations already underway on their lands, and
regard the Chávez government's plans as an impending death
sentence. Seven Barí and three Wayuú tribes are already
currently encircled by mining pits through which the coal companies
forbid all outside visitors to pass, and members of the tribes
themselves are allowed to come and go for only two days out of the

Although the Bolivarian Constitution states that the government can
only have access to natural resources "without rupturing the
cultural, social, and economic integrity of [the people] and, equally,
will be subject to the prior informing and consulting of the respective
indigenous communities," in reality this - like much of the
Constitution - doesn't mean much in practice. The process by which
these tribes were allowed to demarcate their own land (as stipulated
by Article 119 the Constitution) was undertaken by a joint
government/community commission on the matter that included
ample representation from business interests and some questionable
participation from discredited indigenous "leaders" selected by the
state. The result is that while a large land package was in fact offered
to the tribes, the final territorial boundaries proposed had some
suspicious holes cut out of them in exactly the areas where you
might find the largest coal deposits...

This has been a divisive issue within the tribes themselves, as
several voices in the community have been quick to point out that for
a government to even recognize them, to say nothing of offering
them an - admittedly limited - control over their own land is totally
unprecedented and should be taken up as the golden opportunity it
is, while it lasts. Others have explained that even in those lands the
tribes would be continuously under siege by the environmental
contamination of the adjacent export mining activities, and that the
total destruction of the surrounding area, its water supply and
bio-diversity is far too high a price to pay.

For a variety of reasons the struggle of the indigenous people in the
Sierra del Perijá has received startlingly little attention, even within
Venezuela. To begin with, the extreme urban concentration of the
national population (80% living on 1% of the land) means that vast
expanses of the national territory are kept far from the eye of public
politics, which at any rate is centered almost exclusively on and in
Caracas. To some degree, this also explains how various Venezuelan
governments and multinationals have been able to maintain
ecologically destructive means of resource extraction without
directly affecting or alerting any "significant" number of the
populace; the Southeastern region of Guyana, for instance, makes
up 40% of Venezuela's landmass but only one percent of the total
population actually lives there, and those only in relatively few cities
- there are still areas which have not yet been explored.

Additionally, the Bolivarian government has long been promoting a
mythologized caricature of the nation's indigenous population,
usually based on more well known, tokenized, or secluded
populations such as the Yanomani, who stretch into Brazil. Through
this outlook, indigenous peoples who live in developed areas of the
country or wear "modern" clothing are almost totally disregarded
simply as an impoverished, uneducated, inebriated, and invisible
lumpen-proletariat - much like elsewhere in the world. Thus the
Chávez government can play with the imagery of indigenous
"rights" and especially "recognizing/paying tribute to indigenous
heritage" without actually engaging in the daily reality of a good deal
of the country's indigenous citizens. During one public speaking
event in Caracas, I saw a local community leader explain his pride at
being part of the Venezuelan majority's uniquely distinctive racial
makeup by explaining, "we are neither whites, nor blacks, nor
Indios; we are our own category." Such public discourse, coupled
with the Bolivarian government's incessant propaganda campaigns
glorifying indigenous resistance to colonialism and their cultures
which have been "criminally eradicated", allows for the focus to be
kept off the socio-cultural and economic realities faced by the
originarian peoples that do in fact still reside within Venezuela.

To be sure, the rather ill-defined Mision Guaicaipuro has recently
sprung up as the government's tool for intervention in these matters,
but in many cases it has been used as a simple propaganda venture
by which small schools with a limited mandate (generally, literacy
programs) are set up and run by the state for a few months before
being abandoned and left for the tribes to take over themselves
(which of course, when it happens, is a good thing). Only recently is
the government beginning to make moves on the issue again, no
doubt as a way to increase "solidarity" work within these regions in
the hopes of potentially undermining community opposition to the
exploitation of coal (in Spanish, carbón).

However, the biggest problems for the anti-carbón activists come
(unsurprisingly) from the coal companies themselves. In Zulia, coal
exploitation is coordinated by a firm known as Carbozulia, which is
owned by PDVSA and controlled by Corpozulia, the umbrella in
charge of all development projects in the state. The extent to which
these interests are willing to go in order to secure foreign access to
Venezuela's coal include publicly denying that there are any
indigenous or other residents within the affected areas, and should
come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the dealings of similar
corporations, "revolutionary" or otherwise.
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