Science under fire

IVICI have fond memories of the IVIC, the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research. I only got to spend a few months there, specifically in the Cellular Neuropharmacology Lab as part of a short internship – all fun stuff, even got to do scorpion milking once – but I enjoyed every minute of it. What blew my mind was how well equipped the labs were.

It was heaven, they had everything. I mean, for a student that was used to pippetting Sulfuric Acid and Benzene by mouth (due to the lack of safety pipette filler in the UDO labs), these labs were top of the line. And the Marcel Roche library, don’t even get me started on that scrumptious Unesco desginated Science and Technolgy Reference Center for Latin America and the Caribbean.

So when I heard of it’s “elimination” on the part of the government, I was shocked. But apparently I learned the info the same time the IVIC community did, seeing that the new law was not even consulted with them. Even the IVIC’s personnel committed with the proceso were taken back.

Many have weighed in their experiences in this institution. Two that have resonated have been Miguel Octavio’s blog, with his excellent personal recount on life in the IVIC (and what changed the game for him), and José G. Álvarez Cornett, who has a great article both personal and somewhat institutional.

For me, the IVIC is one of the most (if not the most) renowned scientific institutions in Venezuela. Even facing absurd politics and budget cuts, it has still been able to keep making science and scientists in the country.  It has been 55 years of discovery, and knowledge, and hard work. Of the 100 most cited scientific papers in the world, number 86 was produced in the IVIC (Yeah Science!). There is absolutely no excuse for this move, for this degradation of such and important venezuelan institution.

But for Arreaza, the IVIC is just a elitist institution that had to be reformed:

What we are going to eliminate is elitist science, dedicated to capitalism, the type of science thats not useful for the people.

Elitist science?

Dedicated to Capitalism?

Not useful to people?

Resentment thy name is Chavismo…

The Goverment has been slowly and consistently undermining, or violently interfering, with universities and scientific Institutions. These are not isolated “incidents” – this is an aggressive and hostile takevoer.

In June,  the Marine biology station of Dos Mosquises was snatched away from “Fundación Cientifica Los Roques”, and handed to the “Fundación de Investigaciones Marinas Francisco de Miranda.” They were given 3 months to take their equipment or lose it.

The move was an outrage. The Marine Biology Station was born from the hard work of many environmentalists. This is where key studies were made, giving us our first marine National Park (Los Roques), promoting the fishing bans for Botuto and Lobster,  working hard on Marine Turtle and Shark conservation, teaching the population of Los Roques to take care of the environment with their education programs, and also branching into other areas like antrohpology and archeology.

Jacques Cousteau came to this station back in the 70’s with his Marine Biology tour on board the Calypso. That’s how important it was, but the goverment didn’t even blink. Forty-seven years of pioneering science and the environment, lost.  The Station was dismantled on October 1st. Read Dr. Juan Posada’s  heartfelt goodbye to the station that formed him.

In August, the Environmental Ministry was sacked, and now it’s just a pathetic office in the Housing, Habitat and Ecosocialism Ministry. Why? Because it was simply getting in the way.  How? Well, for starters, by not giving permits for housing and construction permits inside Park territories.

For example the case of the Medanos de Coro National Park in 2011 (quaint little project by the Ministerio de Las Comunas) and also the new housing in La Restinga (20 new houses). There’s also a worrisome construction of a tourism development in Morrocoy National Park where they have already started cutting down mangrove (illegal by the way) and doing soil compaction. There’s no way the old Environmental MInistry could have given permits for this, but now, under new management, well, they ain’t gonna tell their boss no.

(On a side note, a friend who worked in Los Roques was quick to point the amount of illegal constructions in that Park, and I’m no talking about little sacks, but mansions for the rich and elite. The Government most likely has violated the Environmental Non Regression Principal signed in Rio 2012. Did it give a shit? No.)

This November, following the IVIC’s guillotine verdict, and the gestation of its bizarro substitute, the IVECIT,  the law on Science, Technology and Innovation was reformed. Once again, it was not consulted with the stakeholders.  This law gives the goverment more control over resources meant for scientific research.

I am very forlorn on the future of Venezuela’s environment. Conservation and science go hand in hand, and the destruction of our scientific/environmental institutions can only mean destruction for our environment.

By the way, have you gone to Canaima yet? Maybe you should not postpone it anymore.