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Official audits reveal the state’s absence and threats to the preservation of national parks

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The lack of studies, inventories and monitoring of the state directorates of Environment and Inparques (National Institute of Parks) caused, according to 2014 audits of the Office of the General Comptroller of the Republic, undertaking activities, works and illegal settlements in the Médanos de Coro and Canaima national parks, in the Pedernales Forest Area and the Piedra La Tortuga Natural Monument. These actions threaten the conservation of four zones that by law must be protected in a special way.

One of the main sources of information that the Google search engine throws on the Piedra La Tortuga Natural Monument is the official site of the institution responsible for protecting and conserving this place. The Inparques’ website indicates that the monument not only has an evident archaeological and landscape value of the state of Amazonas, but it is also part of the cultural patrimony of the predominant ethnic groups in this zone. «It is a space for the protection of cultural testimonies from our ancestors,» it states. Despite this recognition, official documents reveal that Inparques has been the one who has not complied with its work and threatened the preservation of this and three other national parks that are under the special administration regime of the Venezuelan state.

This is a series of audits carried out in 2014 by the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic to the regional directorates of the then Ministry of Environment and Inparques, which were recorded in the report and accounts of the institution and processed in open data by Vendata for its reuse. The evaluations indicate that the local offices of both agencies in the states of Amazonas, Falcón, Delta Amacuro and Bolívar failed to comply with their legal obligations and consequently promoted illegal actions such as timber trafficking, logging and mining activities in the Médanos de Coro and Canaima national parks, in the Pedernales Forest Area and in the Piedra La Tortuga monument.

These places are part of the Areas under Special Administration (Abrae), a territorial-legal denomination created in the Organic Law of Territorial Organization to protect an extensive group of ecological zones that due to their potential can be used for productive, protective or recreational purposes. Nearly 70% of the national territory is under this figure to which belong, to date, 43 national parks including the four mentioned in the audits.

The Office of the Comptroller General established in its examinations that the institutional breach by Environment and Inparques violated provisions of seven legal regulations: Organic Law of the Environment, Law of Management of Biological Diversity, Organic Law for the Territory Planning on Administration and Management of Parks and Natural Monuments, Organic Law of the Municipal Public Power, Forest Law of Soils and Waters, Rules for the Administration of Forestry Activities, in Forest Reserves, Forested Lots, Forested Areas Under Protection and Forested Areas in Private Property Lands Destined to the Permanent Forest Production, and Organic Law of the Communal Councils.

The National Institute of Parks is currently run by Josué Alejandro Lorca Vega, who has held the position since June 2018. He previously worked as alternate member of the board of directors of the Fatherland Youth «Robert Serra» Mission Foundation and director of the office of monitoring and evaluation of public policies of the office of the Minister of Higher Education, as listed by Vendata’s official gazette search engine.

This open data platform also systematized the goals and objectives set by Inparques during 2013 and 2014 and found that half was not met. The processing also showed inconsistencies in the budget information delivered by Inparques in the reports and accounts of the Ministry of Environment for those two years. This state portfolio has undergone different transformations, but only in name: it is currently known as the Ministry of Popular Power for Ecosocialism and the reports and accounts for 2016 and 2018 have not been published.

Absence of the state

According to the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the regional directorates of Environment and Inparques did not undertake studies, investigations or inventories that would allow to establish the degree of destruction, degradation and fragmentation of the ecosystems in the four national parks. «The absence of these studies and investigations is due to the lack of planning of such activities and inclusion of them in the operational plans, regulations and use plans, as well as the lack of professional and technical personnel in the surveillance and environmental control units to respond to the effects of intervention of existing natural resources,” was settled in the reports and account of the comptroller entity for 2014.

In the case of the Piedra La Tortuga monument, there were insufficient personnel from Inparques, absence of the ordering plans and regulations for use, facilities abandoned or affected by theft, and lack of properly defined budgets to counteract these circumstances. «It was observed a deep well installation for firefighting that is inoperative due to the theft of the bank of electricity transformers, pumps and electrical wiring», it is detailed. The audit concludes that the gaps in the obligations of Inparques allow illicit activities and generate a «high degrading impact» on the area’s flora and fauna.

Piedra La Tortuga Monument

This lack of vigilance and monitoring on the part of Inparques and the regional directorate of Environment seems to cause even more serious situations in the Pedernales Forest Area, located in Delta Amacuro. In June 2014, the local headquarters of the Ministry of Environment responded to the Office of the Comptroller General that they only carried out surveillance and control inspections at the request of that portfolio or in response to complaints from residents of the surrounding communities. This, according to the audit, leads to the fulfillment of «activities in the protected area that generate destruction, degradation and fragmentation of ecosystems». The supervisory body found, for example, a metal pipe with waste from an oil well that was a few meters. «(This causes) decrease of oxygen when tar stains are generated, destroying the sources of food in the superior species, and introduction of carcinogens in the food chain,» it concludes.

Other failures that are identified in the work of public institutions are those that were presented in the evaluation of the state of the Médanos de Coro National Park. The audit indicates, on the one hand, that the regional management of Inparques in Falcón does not have biosecurity programs to prevent risks to the conversion of the place. It also identifies three illegal urban settlements with precarious basic services. «This situation is due to the fact that the competent authorities did not consider managing social, economic and environmental conservation development nor prioritized the organized communities that live in the park areas to relocate them in a new urbanism.» The Comptroller maintains that the installation of these settlements does not guarantee a sustainable progress between the ecosystem, the biological diversity and the other natural resources of the area under protection.

For the years 2013 and 2014, the inability of Inparques to solve its deficiencies was also reflected in the reports and accounts of the Ministry of Environment. Of the 59 goals that Inparques set for the first 15 months of those 2 years, on issues of projects, teams, plans and vigilance for the conservation and maintenance of national and recreational parks, it did not comply with half of the goals set. For example, for 2013, ten infrastructure projects were proposed and none was executed.

The government of Nicolás Maduro authorized in 2016 the exploitation of coltan, gold and diamond in the area known as Arco Minero del Orinoco (Orinoco Mining Belt) or Arco Minero de Venezuela. It is an extension of 112 thousand square meters that includes part of the states of Bolivar and Amazonas. This authorization has been rejected by local environmental organizations that have considered a negative impact of this exploitation in an area where Canaima National Park is also located, one of the hundreds of Venezuelan areas under special protection of the state that is also world heritage.

In contrast to the government, in 2014 the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic (CGR) warned about the existence of mining activities without state permits that were endangering the conservation of the park. «From the on-site inspection carried out on date 14/ 5/2014 to the indigenous community of Campo Alegre, located geographically at the following coordinates: N 04 ° 45 ’80» and W 61º l2′ 00 «, in the eastern sector of the Canaima National Park, evidenced the practice of mining activity in the vicinity of the Kukenan River, made with the use of gasoline pump equipment and conveyor belts for the extraction of gold,» says the CGR.

The audit maintains that these actions originated due to the lack of environmental management by the authorities to prevent the deterioration of the ecosystem and the «excessive and irrational» activities of the inhabitants of the Campo Alegre community in the extraction of gold resources. «As a result, pollution damage is caused to the main source of water in the state of Bolívar and part of the Venezuelan territory, as well as to the ecosystem of Canaima National Park,» the report concludes.

In December 2018, a study by the Colombian organization Infoamazonía, together with the Amazonian Socioenvironmental Information Network, found that of the 2,315 points mapped for illegal extraction of minerals in 6 Amazonian countries, 82% are located in Venezuela.

The absence of the state in this park has also led to the installation of organized crime groups that have made the mining activity a lucrative but at the same time violent business. At least 12 massacres have occurred in the Belt mines exploited since 2016.

Just as the Office of the Comptroller General detected mining activities in Canaima, it also found illegal actions that threaten the conservation of the Piedra La Tortuga monument in the state of Amazonas. «There was an illegal entry of vehicles (dirt road) located at coordinates N 05º 34 ‘15.3″ and W 067º 35’ 20.96″, which serves for the illegal extraction of wood and cucurito palm, as well as illegal access of vehicles (clandestine port) located at coordinates N 05 ° 34 ‘38.0″ and W 067º 35’ 33.5″ which serves to smuggle merchandise,» the audit notes. The CGR also found evidence of illegal fishing.

The finding of illegal wood trafficking is consistent with the investigations that in 2012 initiated the International Criminal Police (Interpol) with its «Operation Lead» in Latin America. The operation allowed Interpol to seize around US$ 40 million in illegal timber traffic in Venezuela in 2013 and to begin to put the country on the trail of the usual countries in that activity.

«Venezuela’s role in this latest round of timber seizures is remarkable, especially considering that the quantity seized in 1 month represented more than 3 times the total amount of wood seized internationally during the first phase of the operation,» stated at the time a note from the regional investigation platform of organized crime and corruption InSight Crime.

Audits by the Office of the Comptroller General also reveal the existence of one of the main causes of environmental pollution worldwide: the felling and burning of trees. These actions cause destruction of forest biodiversity and water pollution, which end up influencing human beings’ food chain.

«In the Caño Wakajara de Manamo, station located geographically at the following coordinates: No. 1046876-E566279, vegetation and soil show evidence of damage by felling and burning of trees, in approximately 1 hectare, and opening of drainage channel (trinchas),» says the CGR in reference to an area located within the Pedernales Forest Area of the state of Delta Amacuro.

According to the United Nations Food Organization, or FAO for its acronym in English, Venezuela is the tenth country with the greatest annual loss of forest.

Illegal works

In addition to the faults in the obligations of Inparques and the illegal activities that this has caused, the Office of the General Comptroller identified 3 works that were arranged in 2 of the audited national parks without having the corresponding permit. These constructions, the CGR says, affect the conservation of the biomes (flora and fauna) in these places.

At the Piedra La Tortuga monument, the state company Corpoamazonas built an asphalt processing plant despite the refusal of the Ministry of Environment. «It was evidenced that the Regional Directorate of People’s Power for the Environment-Amazonas considered the installation of such plant not feasible. However, it was found that Corpoamazonas S.A installed and put into operation the plant in question, without having a proper environmental impact study or the corresponding permit,» the audit states.

Corpoamazonas is a state enterprise created to implement projects that promote the integral development of the state of Amazonas. That is, a state enterprise failed to ensure the same obligations that the state itself establishes. In 2014, this enterprise was headed by a person affiliated to the government party, former minister of Hugo Chávez for Indigenous Peoples and current deputy of the National Assembly, Nicia Maldonado.

The Office of the Comptroller General also considers illegal 2 constructions carried out in Médanos de Coro, in Falcón. According to the comptroller entity, both projects lack support and permit documentation. «The existence of 2 contracts was confirmed: ‘Parque Divino Niño Construction’, for the amount of Bs. 1,200,000.00; and ‘Plaza Magglio Ordóñez Construction’, for an amount of Bs. 499,696.91 specifically executed in Paseo Monseñor Iturriza, during 2012, which do not have any support related to the request for permits, nor the respective authorization by the National Institute of Parks for the execution of the aforementioned works, as foreseen in article 2, single paragraph of the Plan of Structuring and Regulation of Use of the Médanos de Coro National Park,» the audit notes.

The report does not indicate which public or private entity was in charge of the construction of the works, but notes that the mayor of Coro did not issued the respective authorizations. «(This) negatively affects the administration and conservation, whenever constructions are carried out that are not in agreement to preserve and conserve the ecosystems and landscapes of the Médanos de Coro National Park,» it points out.

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