Mining in El Cerro La Vieja: Capital Against the Human Rights of the People of Simon Planas

Antonio J. González Plessmann
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f7/Pico_de_La_Vieja.jpg

“The master’s tools will never disassemble the master’s house.”
– Audre Lorde

Cerro La Vieja is located in front of Sarare municipality of Simón Planas in the state of Lara. It has an area of 524 hectares and 683 m2, of immense historical, cultural, agricultural and ecotourism value. The Sarare River and the Quebrada La Cimarrona feed from the hill. It has survived several attempts of mining exploitation ( the first, in the 90’s), which were defeated by the popular mobilization. At present, the hill is undergoing a new attempt of exploitation by a State-Private Capital alliance, promoted by the Government of Lara State with a grave impact on the human rights of the population of the municipality.

Violation of the rights to information, prior consultation and popular protagonism

“We command by obeying the people, not by ordering, not by crushing the peoples; this is how the capitalists command, this is how the tyrants command” (Hugo Chávez [1]).

Article 164 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (CRBV) states that it is “… of the exclusive competence of the states: … 5. The regulation and exploitation of non-metallic minerals, not reserved to the National Power…”. The Government of Lara State has a “Strategic Plan for the Non Metallic Mining Development of Lara State” [2], which implies a State-private capital partnership, in which the exploitation of limestone in Cerro La Vieja is included. The Government also has the Jacinto Lara Non-Metallic Minerals Company, which describes itself as “the governing body for the management of the state’s non-metallic minerals” [3]. It is presided over by veterinarian Yoel Morales. That is all the information available.

Article 128 of the CVRC states that, “The State shall develop a policy of territorial planning […] that includes information, consultation and citizen participation”.

The people of Simón Planas have not been informed or consulted by the Governor’s Office about the current process of mining exploitation, of which it is informally known that a license has been granted, detonations have been heard and the construction of a road, the deforestation of a sector at the foot of the hill and the movement of state machinery (by CAVIM and Pedro Camejo) can be confirmed. It is also known that a lawyer named Jorge Alberto Rodríguez Morán acts on behalf of the company, who has directed aggressions and threats against peasants in the sector and who have been accused of various crimes, including fraud and gender violence.

The people of Simón Planas do not know the name of the company that is advancing the exploitation, the temporal and spatial scope of the license, or whether it intends to exploit minerals other than limestone. The same people, who have neither been informed nor consulted, have expressly mobilized, both in the past and at present, to condemn the exploitation of their hill. In the middle of the last decade, a popular mobilization led the municipality to declare the Cerro a “Municipal Park and Environmental and Ecological Heritage of the Municipality Simón Planas” [4]. Article 2 of the Decree “prohibits… the use of limestone, since explosions in the caves of Cerro La Vieja can cause landslides and destroy the natural and environmental heritage of the Municipality” [5].

In a recent forum held on May 16, 19, in Barquisimeto, by the Non Metallic Minerals Company Jacinto Lara, its president, Yoel Morales, attributed the malaise of the people of Simón Planas to “internal political disputes” within the Municipality. However, in the march that took place on Saturday 18.05.19 from Sarare to Cerro La Vieja, a very intense spirit of unity in the diversity around the defense of the hill was observed. Although the PSUV sector that runs the mayor’s office is silent about mining on the hill, it has not gone out to defend it either, suggesting that it is obeying a line “from above” with which it does not have full agreement. On the other hand, the grassroots Chavismo and militants of all the GPP parties are openly against the exploitation of the hill. It is very interesting, moreover, that this struggle mobilizes a pluralism of plebeian civil society. In addition, there are sports climbers who use the hill regularly, small producers who benefit from its waters, community members of El Maizal, religious sectors who use their caves to hold spiritualistic rituals, sectors of the local Catholic church, and many unorganized settlers who have a very strong physical and cultural link with their hill and who responded to the call of the “Committee for the Defense of Cerro La Vieja Municipal Park”.

Everything seems to indicate that the opacity in the information and the lack of consultation are intended to undermine and hinder the expression of protagonism of the people of Simon Planas, who for more than two decades have been opposing the destruction of their hill. It will be up to Governor Carmen Meléndez to decide, then, whether to reverse her current decision to “command by obeying” or whether to ratify her alliance with capital to exploit the hill and then “command by crushing,” which is how “the capitalists command […] tyrants,” as Chávez said.

Violation of cultural rights

“All the cultural manifestations contained in this catalog… are holders of such values -whether historical, cultural, plastic or environmental- that the Cultural Heritage Institute declares them a Property of Cultural Interest, according to Resolution No. 003-05 dated February 20, 2005” (Venezuelan Cultural Heritage Catalog [6]).

La Vieja Cave, which is inside the hill, is part of the aforementioned catalogue, making it an officially protected Asset of Cultural Interest. The catalogue cites archaeological finds such as pottery with hieroglyphics, ceramic pieces, carved coconuts, giant vessels, bones and loose bones, which suggest a dense history of use of the hill and explain its role in the generation of local culture. “There is a belief -the catalogue points out- that this cave is connected to the Minas de Buría and that it was there that the Negro Miguel hid the famous treasure that was never found” [7]. The rebellion of Negro Miguel against the Spanish oppression and his passage through the hill is a source of pride for the settlers of Simón Planas. Another of the hill’s caves is called Estefanía, in honour of one of Negro Miguel’s daughters. This cave is a place of worship of Venezuelan spiritualism or Marialoncero and inside you can see more than 500 objects of worship of the various courts of this Venezuelan religion, in addition to impressive stalagmites and stalactites, up to 5 meters in length.

In addition to the religious uses or the historical value, it is very easy to see the link between the inhabitants of Simón Planas and its hill. The hill is a beautiful visual presence from all points of Sarare. People look at the hill and know if it will rain, because it is a wall to the humid winds of the south that facilitates the accumulation of clouds. The schools and high schools frequently organize excursions to the hill, so the vast majority of Sarareños/as have visited and enjoyed it. People from other parts of the country come to the municipality to discover it or use its walls for rock climbing or bird watching, turning the hill into an ecotourism destination that produces great local pride.

The mining exploitation, carried out with explosives, would make the caves unsafe. It would generate landslides (in fact there are already landslides in La Vieja Cave) and would make religious, ecotourism, recreational, sports or scientific use of the hill impossible. A man who participated in the march called by the “Committee for the Defense of Cerro La Vieja Municipal Park”, believed that “Los Naturales” (species of elves that inhabit the hill) would prevent this from happening: “The workers of the company that tried to exploit the hill had already gone mad before”.

Violation of the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment

“Capitalism doesn’t care about destroying the forests, destroying the waters and ending life […] Capitalism is a model that destroys life. Capitalism destroys […] both nature and man who is part of nature” -Hugo Chávez [8].

Article 129 of the CVRC states that “All activities likely to cause damage to ecosystems must be previously accompanied by environmental and socio-cultural impact studies”. No study has been carried out prior to the ongoing exploitation in Cerro La Vieja. The mere non-existence of these studies implies the illegality of the exploitation, nullifies the license granted by the Government and obliges the State (the municipal, state and national executive power; the Judicial Power or the Ombudsman’s Office if someone takes action against it) to immediately correct the violation in progress. In fact, the officials who delivered the authorizations without the environmental impact study must be sanctioned “… with three months’ to one year’s imprisonment [and] disqualification from the exercise of public functions or employment for up to two years after serving the main sentence,” according to Article 43 of the Environmental Penal Law.

Although due to the lack of a study of the law, the environmental damage that would be generated by the exploitation of the hill is not known with scientific rigor, there are data that allow us to suggest possible damages; as well as current concrete facts that already constitute environmental crimes.

The hill absorbs like a sponge the humidity of the winds from the south that come to collide with the principle of the Andes. In addition to feeding the Sarare River and La Cimarrona Creek, it drains into a natural groundwater system that benefits the agricultural production of the entire municipality. The use of wells is one of the main sources of access to water in the area, according to the municipality’s small producers. It is possible to conclude that the exploitation of the hill would diminish access to water and, with it, the agricultural productivity of the area.

On the other hand, the company modified the course of the Sarare River and built a road less than 20 meters from the River, despite the fact that the Water Law explicitly states, in its article 54, that they are “… protective zones of bodies of water: …1.- The surface defined by the circumference of three hundred meters of radius in horizontal projection with the center at the source of any body of water. 2.- The surface defined by a strip of three hundred meters on both banks of the rivers…”. This action by the company, carried out with state machinery, also constitutes an environmental crime, typified in the Penal Law of the Environment (article 56) and sanctioned “… with a prison term of one to five years…”.

The struggle against the exploitation of Cerro La Vieja condenses one of the central contradictions of our time. On one side is the rentier option, with its promise to extract minerals to be converted into a wealth that is supposed to be distributed. The “good” generated by this operation (the distribution of wealth) would justify the inevitable damage (violation of rights) to the environment, culture, agricultural production and the lives of the population. On that side are Lara’s Governorate and businessmen who formally hold 49% of the project’s assets, but who use the institutions (security forces, Governorate, INTI, Prosecutor’s Office) as extensions of themselves. On the other hand, there is an agricultural productive initiative, which includes communal organizations along with dozens of small producers who work on the hillsides to produce food (at a time when the US blockade threatens to generate a famine in the country), as well as a diversity of actors who defend their hills, led by grassroots and popular Chavismo movements, who have learned in 20 years of the Bolivarian Revolution to mobilize to defend and demand their rights. It is a people that knows that “… Capitalism is a model that destroys life” (Hugo Chávez) and that will not hesitate to stand up to those who, speaking in the name of the Revolution, become mere instruments of Capital.

Violation of the right to land, the right to personal integrity and freedom of the peasant population

“It is necessary to put order to the property of the land, land for the peasants, for the one who works it” -Hugo Chávez

Jorge Alberto Rodríguez Morón (C.I. 7.358.624), the local operator of the State-Capital alliance, has been accused of violence against peasants in the areas surrounding the hill. Exercised both directly and in alliance with security forces and INTI. The objective would be to evict the peasants from the hillside to guarantee protection for exploitation. According to spokespersons of the “Committee for the Defense of Cerro La Vieja Municipal Park,” the INTI reversed at least one land title, the GNB CONAS seized weapons and opened criminal proceedings against a group of peasants who oppose the exploitation (who were arbitrarily detained and are currently under protective custody) and Rodriguez himself directly threatened several producers with armed gunmen, while offering to buy land from others. The denunciations of these facts have been presented to the institutions, without having obtained justice. This is clearly a logic of dispossession and criminalization of popular sectors, which reverses the advances of the Bolivarian Revolution.

Popular mobilization and broad alliance for the reinvention of the popular countryside

This case is just one of the 17 projects that the government intends to develop in the municipality and one of the 130 that it intends to develop in the state [9]. The slogan that accompanies the Plan is: “A Post-rentista Productive Strategic Development Plan”. It is difficult to understand how the mining project can be presented as “post-rentista”, but it is easy to see that the State-private capital alliance is violating the human rights of the population of Simón Planas Municipality.

A broad alliance was formed within the municipality to confront this new attempt at exploitation. Quickly other sectors of the state and the country were mobilized to accompany and support it. The dignified struggle promoted by the inhabitants of Simón Planas is related to the analyses, feelings and lines of action of popular militants throughout the country, alliances between the State and Capital must be revealed, those who have the indignity to speak on behalf of the people and act in accordance with their own interests must be denounced, the short-sighted and unfeasible logic of the rentier must be questioned. And it is necessary to do it from the experience gained in these years, from an alliance between the State and the People’s Power,  from popular protagonism that has guaranteed us so many achievements in matters of inclusion, social justice and enjoyment of rights,  and from a model of communalized production that has demonstrated efficiency when it comes to guaranteeing with dignity the material and spiritual life of the population.

This struggle is, at the same time, enormously important both locally and nationally. It allows for the promotion of strategic debates aimed at revitalising and strengthening the popular struggle through the resource that has given us the most achievements: mobilization for our rights.

https://elotrosaberypoder.files.wordpress.com/2019/05/cerro-la-vieja-marcelo-volpe.jpg?w=840Cerro La Vieja. Municipality Simón Planas, Lara. Photo: Marcelo Volpe.

Antonio J. González Plessmann is a member of Surgentes Human Rights Collective

Notes

1] Online consultation: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xgath0

2] Secretariat of Economic Development of the Lara State Government, “Strategic Plan for the Non Metallic Mining Development of the Lara State 2019 – 20130”. Presentation

3] Online query: @MinasLara

4] Decree No. 006, Official Gazette No. 0344 (Extraordinary) of the Municipality of Simón Planas, Lara State, 23.07.07.

5] Idem.

6] Online consultation: https://albaciudad.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Lara-SimonPlanas.pdf

7] Venezuelan Cultural Heritage Catalogue. https://albaciudad.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Lara-SimonPlanas.pdf

8] Hello President 257. Online consultation: http://www.todochavez.gob.ve/todochavez/4025-alo-presidente-n-257

9] Secretariat of Economic Development of the Lara State Government, “NON METALLIC MINING IN THE LARA STATE ¨Un Post-rentista Productive Strategic Development Plan”. Presentation.

Translation by Internationalist 360°