Latin America is boiling with revolutionary potential these days that could redefine economics, politics and social relations. But sometimes things aren’t always as they seem.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is widely seen to be at the center of Latin America’s transformation by building a regional trade bloc through the creation of ALBA and Venezuela’s membership in Mercosur to oppose U.S. dominance and its constant push for free trade agreements with Latin American governments.
Chavez is drumming up support in a rhetoric that seeks to reminisce of those days of glory when Simon Bolivar intended to unite Latin America. Chavez’ Boliviarian revolution suddenly seems the only viable option, not only among the non-elite in Latin America but also gathering support among once disillusioned leftists worldwide.
However, the true democratic debate has been silenced in this simplified two-sided fight between the projects of macho men. While Chavistas and anti-Chavistas tirelessly battle and Venezuelan families are divided, little space seems to be left for alternatives and critiques of the supposed Chavista revolution, without being labeled anti-revolutionary. While the anti-imperial and anti-capitalist discourse of Chavez attracts supporters worldwide, including even such world famous writers as Noam Chomsky and Eduardo Galeano, Chavez is busy making direct business contracts with oil giants such as Petrobras, ChevronTexaco, BP, ExxonMobil, and Shell. As Chavez claims to represent the indigenous population of his country, many questions remain about these mega-corporate ventures, as indigenous voices from over all over the continent speak of the effects of these oil empires, that is, if anyone wants to listen. Where are the dissident feminist, environmental, and indigenous voices to create a real revolution?
As activists from the American continent prepare to gather in January for a showdown at the World Social Forum, the question that should arise after learning about Chavez mega oil projects is, is another world possible? And the answer should be – not with oil.
Chavez has teamed up with Brazil’s now scandalous Lula to create the world’s largest oil corporation PetroAmerica, the combination of the two state owned companies PetroVenezuela (Pdvsa) and Petrobras. While Chavez is sending cheap oil to poor Latino immigrants on U.S. soil, he ignores the lives of indigenous people at home and his ventures, if continued, will lead to their eventual extinction.
In Ecuador, Petrobras is infamous for entering the Yasuni national park to exploit for oil, which is the ancestral territory of the Huaoranis, a Pleistocene refuge, and a UNESCO Biosphere reserve since 1989. Yasuni has among the most species of trees in the world. In one hectare there are as many trees and shrub species as native trees in all of North America. And in addition, to being home to the Huaorani indigenous peoples, it is home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane who live in voluntary isolation.
The Council of the Huaorani nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon, ONHAE, has decided to break their previous contract with Petrobras. Petrobras only negotiated with former leaders of ONHAE who did not consult their communities. In the previous negotiations, Petrobras promised to finance a small aircraft company, health, and infrastructure projects in the community. But according to local residents, nothing has been done.
In July 2005, the Huaorani women formed their own organization, AMWAE, which similarly to the famous women of the Sarayacu community, opposes oil exploitation. These women tirelessly resist since they know the environmental and social ills of years of oil exploitation in the Amazon region, which includes cancer, hepatitis B, prostitution, alcoholism, and the extinction of species and therefor, indigenous cultures such as the Tetetes. In Venezuela, the indigenous peoples of the Orinoco river valley are similarly threatened by oil and natural gas exploitation.
Revolutionary romantics will often cite the supposed threats to the Boliviarian revolution as the opposition of the empire (United States) while ignoring the contradictory business contracts between Chavez and multinational corporations which stem from the belly of the beast itself. Stern ideological supporters of Chavez’ and Lula’s state capitalist ventures such as ALBA, or the Boliviarian alternative to the U.S. free trade agreement, ALCA (FTAA in English), should keep in mind that in September 2000 Chavez signed (with the eleven other South American governments) the Integration of Regional South American Infrastructure (IIRSA), long before he revealed the plans of ALBA. This little-known, yet massive infrastructure project, will, like Plan Puebla Panama in Central America create "development corridors". These "development corridors" will serve the interests of the destructive oil, gas, and mining industries by creating superhighways, hydroelectric dams, and gas and oil pipelines, along with military bases to facilitate exploitation, across the entire South American continent to facilitate successful exploitation.
While part of the U.S. free trade agenda, IIRSA is rarely mentioned in the media and has been planned from above. IIRSA is funded by State and private investments, alongside multilateral and national "development" banks, such as IDB, CAF y FONPLATA, which have willingly loaned the money to governments in order to further indebt the already indebted South American population. IIRSA is based on a purely capitalistic worldview, which premieres the commodification of nature and humans, and distinguishes any possibility for collective rights. Following an IIRSA meeting in June 2003 in Venezuela, Chavez explained the purpose of its projects in his own TV program "Alo Presidente" number 155, as "the promotion of productive commercial models that guarantee sustained growth and sustained growth and sustainability for the whole region." But Chavez also announced in that same program the creation of PetroAmerica, which like other massive oil projects in South America will likely cause massive environmental destruction and human suffering.
As part of IIRSA, Chavez has also announced the expansion of coal exploitation in the Venezuelan state of Zulia, which is also home to the indigenous people of Bari, Yukpa, and Wayuu who have resisted oil and coal exploitation for years. The Sierra de Perijas, is also a national park, Increased coal production will be topped of with the construction of the mega sea-port Puerto America with funding from the World Bank, to facilitate the exportation of coal and oil to be built on top of three islands which include Los Olivitos, a nature bird preserve, whose inhabitants disapprove with the plans and say no one asked for their opinions of this project. On March 31 of 2004, thousands of Bari, Yucpa, Wayuu along with university students and adults from Maracaibo marched in resistance of gas exploitation and called for the recognition of indigenous lands. The protesters lamentably never got to meet with President Chavez as he was busy attending to a visit by and ex-footballer Maradona.
Chavez has also welcomed oil giant ChevronTexaco to exploit gas and oil in Venezuela. ChevronTexaco does business in 180 out of 200 countries in the world and while it is the 5ht largest company in the world, it holds 1st place in the extermination of communities, environmental destruction, and human rights violations. During the ceremony which granted ChevronTexaco this right, Chavez cheerfully stated:
"Welcome to Paraguaná, misters (in English).” "Somos buenos amigos, buenos socios y buenos aliados de muchas empresas estadounidenses que trabajan con nosotros y cada dia estamos mas alineados en el trabajo" ("We are good friends, good partners, and good allies of many U.S. companies who work with us and every day we are more aligned in our work.")
ChevronTexaco’s recent endeavours to extend its empire in Venezuela include a 3,800 million dollar investment in the Hamaca project, an oil field in the Orinoco river basin together with Pdvsa and Phillips Petroleum Company. Initially, the project will create 6000 new jobs but upon the completion of construction of the project, it will only need 700 permanent employers. With massive gains for multinational corporations such as ChevronTexaco, 700 jobs will not help counter the environmental destruction that big oil projects inherently cause.
Furthermore, ChevronTexaco’s own website proudly proclaims it has built 11 schools in Venezuela where 4500 students now receive an education of "better quality". Is this perhaps also part of the Boliviarian revolution? As Ali Moshiri, the Latin American representative of ChevronTexaco informed the news agency Reuters on April 18 2005, Chavez’ revolution is not a threat to the company: "La politicas esta separada de los negocios en Venezuela. Las oportunidades son tales que estamos trabajando en encontrar y asegurar nuevos negocios." (In Venezuela politics is separated from business. There are such opportunities that we are working to find and secure new business.")
ChevronTexaco has a history of exploitation of coal and subsequent contamination in Venezuela. In the words of Cesáreo Panapaera, a community leader of 32 Yucpa communities in the mountain region of Tokuko, Venezuela: "Acaban con la cultura de la siembra, van a acabar con el agua y terminaran acabando con la vida" ("They are destroying our farming practices, they are going to destroy our water, and they will end up destroying our lives"). According to Panapaera, the coal exploitation has destroyed rivers, contaminated waters and air and has displaced many farmers and indigenous people from their lands and endangers the lives of his people: "Here are our bows and arrows, and we will use them against the miners if they come to our lands. And if we have to die fighting for our lands, we will die."
In Ecuador, ChevronTexaco is fighting a class-actions suit filed by 30,000 Ecuadorian farmers and indigenous people who argue that the company’s practice of dumping toxic waste from its oil operations has caused irreversible harm to the environment and widespread health problems among local residents. The plaintiffs in the case have endured and continue to suffer the fatal consequences of oil exploitation. Chavez’ big oil projects could very well mean extinction and death to the people of the Amazon region. It could also destroy a place that is that Amazon, home to 1/5 of the world’s fresh water reserves, one third of the world’s biodiversity, and 2/5 of global forests.
While nationalization of resources to some may seem an attractive alternative to the pounding progress of privatizing forces, we have to remember that states have never sided with those most oppressed, just ask the indigenous peoples of the world. Another world is not possible without the knowledge of indigenous cultures that have lived sustainably within the mega biodiversity that is the Amazon rainforest. We need to support these movements while allowing them to decide their own destiny. We must struggle to ensure that they can continue to live their lives as they wish. These are the reasons for why activists have planned to organize an Alternative World Social Forum in Caracas, as a space of open debate to support a more critical and diversified discussion to generate truly sustainable alternatives to capitalism.
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