Statement by the Venezuelan Members of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas –WCPA
In regard of the celebration of the VI World Parks Congress in Sydney, it is relevant to call attention on the Venezuelan protected areas (PA), taking into account that our country hosted the IV World Parks Congress in Caracas, 1992. Currently, most nations could claim progress on issues related to PA, but when evaluating the situation in Venezuela, we found very negative results, thus making it necessary to take a deep reflection on why.
Why is the status of PA in Venezuela of interest to the rest of the world? Venezuela, being part of the “developing world” made important advances on the protection of its natural heritage when the rest of the world lagged behind. It created its first national park in 1937 and its first PA in 1926 as part of its national policy, differentiating itself from other countries where conservation of natural resources was only as rhetorical discourse. It greatly enhanced its PA’s coverage over the following decades as to include 16.45% of its territory; introduced state-of-the-art practices and tools to designate and manage them; accomplished landmarks experiences on ecological restoration of marine and terrestrial ecosystems, in times when very few other countries had done so; established one of the first marine PA of the world (Archipiélago Los Roques, 1972); interconnected PA when this was thought utopia. By the end of the 80’s Venezuela had gained such a positive reputation that it was nominated and selected as host of the IV World Parks Congress. Venezuelans like Gerardo Budowski, Henri Pittier, Julian Steyermark, José Rafael García, left their positive thread on the world’s PA vision and administration. And let us not forget that Venezuela is one of the twelve megadiverse countries, protecting, almost exclusively, the greatest marvels of that worldwide unique bioregion: the Guiana Shield.
But, why to worry about Venezuela ?. Because whatever happen in Venezuela it might happen anywhere, especially in the South American region. Today, our country’s political elite is imposing its particular vision of the world and of life itself, and this vision disdains the role and importance of PA, considering them contrary to social interests. Certainly many world governments do think so. But what is the novelty in that? The novelty is that few countries take it into practice demolishing all of the institutions related to PA. The Venezuelan case goes beyond that of a government allocating meagre resources to PA, closing parks temporarily or insisting on building oil ducts across them. It is that of a government that is using a humanistic and ecological rhetoric while favouring all kinds of forbidden activities and uses in PA, and substituting its professional staff for party-political commissars. A government that eliminates the Ministry of Environment distributing its environmental competences to which constitutionally is obliged, into lower level dependencies within a Housing Ministry that constructs and pretends to build high level environmental impact projects inside PA *. The Venezuelan case is well worth a special study and hence our appeal to all of our WCPA’s colleagues. Do not overlook what happens in Venezuela as a socio-political curiosity. Do not look upon it with disdain, with the vague conviction that someday this will pass and go away. Look upon it as an undercurrent political action that many of our colleagues had overlooked, which is actually in force, in plain vigour and with all the potential to expand itself throughout South America, and from there to the rest of the developing world.
IUCN has played a key role in designing innovative policies that allow PA to be established and developed. We also understand that, as an institution somehow analogue to the UN, IUCN is operated under the principle of non-interference in "internal" affairs. However, even in the core of the UN, when a country stands out of all the standards of living and rationality, it must be contacted through diplomatic channels and persuaded not to pursue that conduct.
The case of Venezuela well deserves thorough and decisive attention of IUCN.
*Some illustrative data:
1. Venezuela’s average investment in conservation in the last 10 year is about US$ 3,66/Sq. km. Developing countries’ average investment has been US$ 161/Sq. km. This does not correspond with the fact that the Venezuelan State has administered an approximate income of US$ 660 billions during the last 14 years.
2. The few resources assigned to PA have led to abandonment and deterioration of the surveillance and control posts, wastage of equipment with many years of use. Actually, only 350 park rangers are responsible to take care of more than 15 million hectares of national parks and natural monuments;
3. Personnel salaries are extremely low and so is their training capacity, thus corruption is frequent;
4. PA lack police enforcement & custody, a situation that poses a high-risk situation for park rangers’ surveillance and monitoring activities. Park rangers have no training in enforcement nor have police functions by law. Between 2001 and 2014, 4 PA workers have been assassinated in the line of duty. No person has been charged for these crimes;
5. Deforestations, wildfires, illegal hunting and fishing have reached record levels. PA are frequently used for illegal activities such as drug smuggling, common delinquency, kidnapping and other crimes;
6. Constructions of “public interest” (electric lines, paved roads, service corridors, optic fiber ducts, oil & gas pipelines, communications antennas) thrive in the PA, executed with a lack of observance for the mitigation and restoration measures conventionally comprised in environmental impact assessments.
7. Illegal gold mining flourishes today in Canaima National Park, the only World Heritage Site proposed by Venezuela and recognized by UNESCO, whilst competent authorities have not been able to deter it