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Maria Pilar Garcia Guadilla
Venezuela. The myth of "Eco-socialism of the XXI Century"

This text, which appeared in El Libertario # 58, March-April 2010,
critically examines what has been meaning the government of Hugo Chavez from an environmental point of view, highlighting the clear separation between the rhetoric speeches that are emitted from power and the specific facts being promoted and implemented. [1]

Venezuela is a country of mining and extractive industry economy, whose
model development has been based on the exploitation of oil and other non
renewable natural resources that causes strong impacts on the environment.
More than a decade, some researchers (Garcia Guadilla et al, 1997)
strongly questioned the sustainability of development models in the
nineties under the presidencies of C. A. Perez and R. Caldera. In the
decade 1999-2009 the government has blamed the "savage capitalism and
neoliberal policies” and consequently, property and private exploitation
of resources for the environmental problems, despite that current
exploitation of these resources and the design of economic policies that
support the so-called Bolivarian Development Model reproduce these
practices labelled as "neoliberal or savage capitalism", causing negative
environmental impacts same strong or higher than in the past.

In the decade 1999-2009, the conflicts and protests for environmental post
materialistic and materialistic demands, have had as main actors
environmental organizations, indigenous communities, public sectors and
even human rights organizations; basing its struggle on the 1999
Constitution, approved by a Constituent Process, that did incorporate
participatory democracy and environmental rights, both socio-cultural and
indigenous, among others (García Guadilla, 2001). Many of these rights
have been violated, and participatory democracy has not resulted in an
environmental democracy when resolving such conflicts, which in fact have
been multiplied since Hugo Chavez became President of the Republic.

_Memorial of grievances_

Some of the most significant socio-environmental conflicts of this decade
in Venezuela have to do with the negative impacts of oil exploitation and
mining, and the potential impacts associated with energy mega-projects,
proposed both nationally and internationally, to supposedly reduce the
U.S. dependence and achieving the integration of Latin America and the
Caribbean by the now called Bolivarian Alliance for Our Americas People

The Bolivarian Development Model has been defined discursively by
Government spokesmen including President Chavez as "sustainable,
endogenous, equitable and participatory" (Fergusson undated; Francia 2007,
Perez, undated; Velasco, 2005.2007; Ministery of Science and Technology,
undated). The electoral tender made in 1998 by the then presidential
candidate Hugo Chavez to support the struggles that environmentalists and
indigenous were doing at the time around their conflicts, along with his
environmental sustainability speech and criticism of the "neo-liberalism
and wild capitalism ", created an expectation among the social movements
that if he became president would set a vision more consonant with
environmental sustainable development.

However, these expectations were frustrated because according to the
announcement made in 2005 by President Chavez, it is contemplated to
double the oil production for 2012 through the exploitation of 500,000 km2
of marine platform and over 500,000 km2 in mainland, plus the construction
of new refineries and a gas complex in the Gulf of Paria. Other activities
included in those development plans are mining extractions in the Imataca
Forest Reserve, the substantial increase in coal mining in the Sierra de
Perija and increased hydropower production for export to Brazil through
electric power lines. The economic crisis along with the government
inefficiency have delayed or halted those plans, but if they ever settle,
it will affect almost the entire territory, including areas that are now
environmentally protected by the laws and Constitution such as Canaima
National Park where the Gran Sabana is placed, Imataca Forest Reserve and
the basins of the country main rivers. These plans reflect continuity with
the policies of previous governments, branded by President Chavez as
"neoliberals, capitalists and predators of the environment."

As for the Caribbean and South America, Venezuela is one of the twelve
member countries of the Initiative for the Integration of South American
Regional Infrastructure (IIRSA), which provides 507 projects with high
environmental and socio-cultural impacts spread over ten areas of
development, involving construction of major works infrastructure
(communication and transport, roads, dams, gas pipelines and waterways) to
the length and breadth of South America (AMIGRANSA, 2005). The mega-plan
Great Southern Gas Pipeline, one of the most important plans to achieve
energy integration between Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina, among other
countries and base of the ALBA project, requires cross 8000 kilometres, so
it would affect extremely fragile and bio diverse areas which, according
with some researchers, are the latest environmental reserves that exist in
Latin America. As in the previous case, these mega-plans are paralyzed or
delayed due to the economic crisis, but if they’re activated, the impacts
on the environment could be compared with the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA), ideological mother of the ALBA.

_Resistance beyond rhetoric discourses_

The development model based in the exploitation of hydrocarbons that the
Venezuelan government has proposed on a national level, for countries part
of the ALBA and the South American and Caribbean region that participates
in the IIRSA, has been strongly questioned by the environmental,
indigenous and human rights movements due to the large scale environmental
and socio-cultural impacts that will generate. In various discussions on
the subject made in the World Social Forum carried out in Caracas in
January 2006, indigenous social movements and environmentalists of
Venezuela and the world expressed strong criticism against the negative
effects of oil exploitation, being the largest mobilization of the Forum
the march against exploitation and expansion of coal developments in the
Sierra de Perija in support of life, environment, cultural identity and,
in general, rights sanctioned in the Bolivarian Constitution of 1999
(, 2006). Currently, there are frequent protests against
negative effects of oil and gas in Ecuador and Venezuela, and questioning
via national and international digital environmental networks such as,, soberaní and; because
these spaces are privileged and globalized electronic networks of
resistance against the negative impacts of oil and gas exploitation in
tropical countries.

In Venezuela as in the whole globalized world, the logic behind social
movements is to face "neoliberal policy" whether the government has a
"anti-neoliberal discourse", which means that the Bolivarian Development
Model, like the other governments that are called left, can generate
resistance and mobilization on the part of those movements which demand
not only materialistic values but also respect for human rights, own
culture, gender equity and a healthy environment. Therefore this can not
be understood solely with the logic of neoliberalism or anti-
neoliberalism, because both can go against the promotion of these values.

In the case of Venezuela, such resistance movements and proposals can come
both from within and outside Chavez circles because of the big ideological
heterogeneity of the groups supporting the president; and given the lack
of a shared and clear ideological project within the Chavez movement,
environmental policies strategies can be woven that do not necessarily
have a reference in the anti-neoliberalism or neoliberalism. This could be
the case of Venezuelans environmental and indigenous social movements
that, while by definition are anti-neoliberal and many of its members
support the president Chavez, transcend this dichotomy questioning the
model of “civilization” and demand a transformation on the political,
cultural, gender, social and environmental rationality.

So far, the great ideological heterogeneity and class differences between
environmentalists, has hampered the formulation of collective proposals
and has contributed to the estrangement between different social movements
that in the past were articulated around strategic alliances of
environmentalists. All this seems to affect the expanded environmental
movement, the indigenous and human rights organizations, that has lost
their power as a result. (García Guadilla & Lagorio, 2006): the missing of
an objective reading on the socio-environmental crisis and the lack of a
joint strategy about alternative collective proposals related with their
identity and constitutionally support, have contributed to this weakening.
While ideological alliances become unrealistic given the large
heterogeneity and polarization, the protests against a predator model that
cause big impacts on the environment and the proposals to "build the new
meanings, languages and symbols "of the new model of civilization could be
channelled through mobilizations, virtual or real, and new forms of
resistance in communities.

_For a consistent Eco-Socialism_

The anti-neoliberal speech of the Bolivarian Development Model can be a
first step towards the implementation of a more fair model; nonetheless
the rationality implicit in the plans and policies planned within the XXI
century Eco-socialism in Venezuela attempt against it, since the
productivist, instrumental and developmental logic has not change. In
addition, the conception of revolutionary transformation implicit in that
model is not different from the ’60s and, in any case, its guidelines come
from above. Can we speak of justice, social equity and solidarity when the
development model does not take into account the environmental dimension
or intergenerational equity?, when it sacrifice the welfare and the right
to cultural identity of its Indigenous communities for economic
development, or a Latin American integration that transcends the
expectations of welfare into the national actors involved?, when the model
do not recognize the negative impacts that the designed mega-projects have
(call these gas pipelines, oil pipelines, or large infrastructure
projects) and whose economic costs, socio-cultural and environmental
impacts are "invisible" for the sake of a new vision of Latin American
integration?; can we speak of a revolutionary model that does not
stimulate more equitable practices and relationships with the environment,
their communities and future generations?

The construction of the XXI Century Eco-socialism in Venezuela passes,
first, to overcome the deep gap between the rhetoric discourse and the
reality of the development model; secondly, it requires that the desirable
model of civilization is built collectively and not to be imposed from
above as in the present and, finally, that his source of inspiration is
the transition to a post-petroleum society, such as the one envisioned by
Salvador De La Plaza, an eminent Venezuelan historian and politician, who
warned about the harmful effects of oil and the need to control them to
achieve national sovereignty. He implicitly noted that the oil industry to
be sustainable requires that the environment benefits and costs arising
from the exploitation of hydrocarbons needs to be listed in the
"accounting" not only economically but also cultural and

This view is not very different from Kovel & Lowry (2002) who in their
Eco-socialist Manifesto indicate that a society with a high degree of
harmony with nature should lead to "the extinction of dependence of the
fossil fuels”, which they considered attached to industrial capitalism.
Get rid of this dependence "can provide material base for the liberation
of the oppressed countries by oil imperialism "and reduce global warming
and other problems arising from the ecological crisis.