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

By Antonio J. González Plessmann

“The tools of the master will never disarm the house of the master.” — Audre Lorde

Cerro La Vieja is located in front of Sarare, Simón Planas municipality of Lara state. It has an area of 524 hectares and 683 m2, of great historical, cultural, agricultural and ecotourist value. From the hill, the Sarare River and the La Cimarrona Creek feed on its edges. It has lived several attempts of mining exploitation (the first of them, in the 90s), that have been defeated by people mobilization. At present, the hill is experiencing a new exploitation attempt by a State-Private capital alliance, promoted by the government of Lara State; with a serious impact on the human rights of the population of the municipality.

1. Violation of the rights to information, prior consultation and people’s protagonism.

“We commanded obeying the people, not commanding, not commanding the people; That’s the way the capitalists rule, so the tyrants rule.” (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 regime and use 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 private State-Capital partnership, which is part of limestone exploitation in Cerro La Vieja. The government also has the Jacinto Lara Non-Metallic Minerals Company, which is defined as “the governing body for the management of non-metallic minerals in the state ” [3]. It is presided over by Yoel Morales, Veterinarian. The available information so far.

The CRBV points out, in its article 128, that ” The State will develop a policy of spatial planning […] that includes information, consultation and citizen participation”.

The town of Simón Planas has not been informed or consulted by the government about the current mining process, of which it is informally known that a license has been given; detonations have been heard and the construction of a highway can be verified, the deforestation of a sector to the skirts of the hill and the movement of machinery of the State (of the companies CAVIM and Pedro Camejo). It is also known that a lawyer by the name of Jorge Alberto Rodríguez Morán acts on behalf of that company, who has directed aggressions and threats against peasants in the sector and who has been accused of various crimes, including fraud and gender violence.

The town of Simón Planas does not know the name of the company that advances the exploitation, the temporal and spatial scope of the license or if it intends to exploit minerals other than limestone. That same people, who have not been informed or consulted, have expressly mobilized, both in the past and in the present, to condemn the exploitation of their hill. In the middle of the last decade, a popular mobilization made the Municipality declare the Cerro as ” Municipal Park and Environmental and Ecological Heritage of the Simón Planas Municipality” [4]. The Decree, in its article 2, “prohibits … the exploitation of limestone; since the 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 05.16.19, in Barquisimeto, by the Non-Metallic Minerals Company Jacinto Lara , its president, Yoel Morales, attributed the discomfort of the people of Simón Planas to “internal political disputes” of the township. However, in the march that took place on Saturday 18.05.19 from Sarare to Cerro La Vieja, an interesting spirit of unity was observed in the diversity around the defense of the hill. Although the sector of the PSUV that directs the Mayor’s office is silent about the mining exploitation in the hill, it has not come out to defend it either, which suggests that it is obeying a line “from above” with which it does not fully agree. On the other hand, the base Chavismo and militants of all the parties of the GPP are openly against the exploitation of the hill. It is very interesting, in addition, that this struggle moves a pluralism of civil society plebeians. Sports climbers who use the hill permanently have joined it, small producers who benefit from its waters, “comuneros” from El Maizal, religious sectors that use the caves to celebrate spiritist cults, sectors of the local catholic church and many unorganized settlers, who have a strong physical and cultural link with their hill and who came to the call of the “Pro-Defense Committee of Cerro La Vieja Municipal Park “.

Everything seems to indicate that the opacity in the information and the lack of consultation aim to ignore and obstruct the expression of the role of the people of Simón Planas, who for more than two decades have been opposing the destruction of their hill. Gov. Carmen Meléndez will have to evaluate, then, if she reverts her current decision to “command obeying ” or if she ratifies her alliance with capital to exploit the hill and then “command crushing”, which is how “the capitalists command […] the tyrants,” as Chavez recalled.

2. Violation of cultural rights

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

La Cueva de La Vieja, [a cave] which is inside the hill, is part of the aforementioned Catalog, in which it is officially an Asset of Cultural Interest object of protection. The Catalog cites archaeological finds such as earthenware with hieroglyphs, pieces of ceramics, carved coconuts, giant vessels, bones and loose bones, which suggest a dense history of the use of the hill and that explain its role in the generation of local culture. “There is a belief – says the Catalog – that this cave communicates with the Mines of Buría and that it was there where Negro Miguel hid the famous treasure that never appeared ” [7]. The rebellion of Negro Miguel against Spanish oppression and his passage through the hill is a source of pride for the settlers of Simón Planas. Another of the caves of the hill is called Estefanía, in honor of one of the daughters of Negro Miguel. 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 different courts of this Venezuelan religion; in addition to impressive stalagmites and stalactites, up to 5 meters long.

But besides the religious uses or the historical value, it is very easy to verify the link of the settlers of Simón Planas with 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 colleges and high schools frequently organize excursions to the hill, so the vast majority of the people of Saragossa have visited and enjoyed it. People from other parts of the country come to the municipality to get to know it or to use its hillsides for the practice of rock climbing or bird watching, turning the hill into an ecotourism place that produces great local pride.

The mining, carried out with explosives, would make the caves insecure. It would generate landslides (in fact there are already landslides in La Vieja Cave) and would make religious, ecotouristic, recreational, sporting 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”, trusted that “Los Naturales ” (a species of goblins that inhabit the hill) would prevent that from happening: “They used to go crazy before workers of the company that tried to exploit the hill. ”

3. Violation of the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment

“It does not matter to capitalism to end the forests, to end the waters and to end life […] Capitalism is a model that destroys life. Capitalism destroys […] both nature and man that is part of nature” (Hugo Chávez [8] )

Article 129 of the CRBV states that “All activities likely to cause damage to ecosystems must be preceded by environmental and socio-cultural impact studies.” No study has been carried out prior to the exploitation in progress at Cerro La Vieja. The mere nonexistence of these studies implies the illegality of the exploitation, makes the license issued by the Governor null and compels the State (the municipal, state and national executive power, the Judicial Power or the Ombudsman if someone acts before 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 arrest from three months to a year [e]Disqualification for the exercise of functions or public employment for up to two years after the completion of the main penalty,” according to article 43 of the Environmental Penal Law.

Although due to the lack of a legal study, the environmental damage that the exploitation of the hill would generate is not known with scientific rigor, there are data that allow possible damages to be suggested; as well as actual facts that already constitute environmental crimes.

The hill absorbs humidity like a sponge, of the winds of the south that come to hit against the principle of the Andes. In addition to feeding the Sarare River and the La Cimarrona Gulch, it drains into a natural system of groundwater 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, as explained by the small [agro] producers of the municipality. It is possible to suppose that the exploitation of the hill would diminish access to the water and, with this, the agricultural productivity of the zone.

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 these are “… water bodies protective zones: … 1.- The surface defined by the circumference of three hundred meters of radius in horizontal projection centered on 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 of the company, carried out with state machinery, also constitutes an environmental crime, typified in the Criminal Law of the Environment (article 56) and sanctioned “… with imprisonment of one to five years …”.

The struggle against the exploitation of Cerro La Vieja encapsulates one of the central contradictions of our time. On one side is the rentier bet, with its promise to extract minerals to be converted into wealth that is supposed to be distributed. The “good” that this operation would generate (the distribution of wealth) would justify the inevitable damages (violation of rights) in the environment, culture, agricultural production and the life of the population. On that side are the government of Lara and businessmen who formally have 49% of the project’s stock, but who use the institutions (security bodies, government, INTI, Public Prosecutor’s Office) as extensions of themselves. On the other side there is a productive agricultural bet, that it includes community forms together with dozens of small producers that work in the foothills around the hill to produce food (at a time when the US blockade threatens to generate a famine in the country); as well, a diversity of actors that defend their hill, led by grassroots and popular Chavismo movements, who have learned in 20 years of the Bolivarian Revolution to mobilize for the defense and enforceability of their rights. It’s a town that knows that “… Capitalism is a model that destroys life “(Hugo Chávez) and that does not hesitate to stand up to those who, speaking in the name of the Revolution, become mere instruments of Capital.

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

“We must put order to the ownership of the land, land for the peasants, for those who work it ” (Hugo Chávez)

There are complaints that point to Jorge Alberto Rodríguez Morón (CI 7,358,624), local operator of the State-Capital alliance, as responsible for violence against peasants in the areas surrounding the hill. Exercised both directly and in alliance with security bodies and INTI. The objective would be to evict the peasants from the slopes of the hill to guarantee protection for the exploitation. According to spokespersons of the “Committee for the Defense of Cerro La Vieja Municipal Park””, The INTI reversed at least one land title; CONAS of the GNB, planted weapons and opened criminal proceedings against a group of peasants who oppose exploitation (who were arbitrarily detained and are currently under subpoena) and Rodríguez himself threatened several armed men directly with armed men, while others offered to buy the land. The denunciations of these facts have been presented to the institutions, without having obtained justice. It is, clearly, a logic of dispossession and criminalization of popular sectors, which reverses the progress of the Bolivarian Revolution.

5. Popular mobilization and broad alliance for the reinvention of the popular field

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-rentist Strategic Productive Development Plan”. It is difficult to understand how the mining bid can be presented as a “post-interventionist “, but it is easy to show that the private State-Capital alliance is attacking the human rights of the population of the Simón Planas Municipality.

A broad alliance was formed within the Municipality to face this new exploitation attempt. Other sectors of the state and the country were quickly mobilized to accompany and support it. And the fact is that the dignified struggle that Simón Planas’s people are promoting is related to the diagnoses, feelings and courses of action of popular activists from all over the country: the alliances between the State and the Capital must be revealed; it is necessary to denounce those who have the indignity to speak on behalf of the people and act according to their own interests; it is necessary to question the short-termism and non-viability of the rentier logic. And it must be done from the experience lived in these years, of an alliance between the State and the Popular Power; from the popular protagonism that has guaranteed us so many achievements in terms of inclusion, social justice and enjoyment of rights; and from a model of communalized production, where it is strong, it has proven effective in guaranteeing the material and spiritual life of the population with dignity.

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

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

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

[3] Online consultation : @MinasLara

[4] Decree No. 006, Official Gazette No. 0344 (Extraordinary) of the Simón Planas municipality of Lara State, 07.23.07

[5] Idem.

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

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

[8] Aló Presidente 257. Online consultation: http://www.todochavez.gob.ve/todochavez/4025-alo-presidente-n-257

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

Source URL: El Otro Saber y poder

Translated by: EF/JRE

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