What is “eco-socialism”?
It’s basically the central government’s term for both its environmental policy and for the ministry in charge of it (which just changed its denomination to Environment and Waters, as Audrey has pointed out).
But what does “eco-socialism” really stand for?
Mostly, it’s for using environmental issues as political taglines.
For example, the government’s PR campaign against “fracking”. Nicolas Maduro hates fracking so much, he wants to amend the Constitution to explicitly ban this oil-extraction technique nationwide.
Of course he’s not doing this for the environment, but because he sees it as part of a U.S. conspiracy targeted against oil producers such as Venezuela and its geo-political ally, Russia.
But in the last few weeks, a new controversy has put the entire concept of “eco-socialism” into question, in spite of not making the headlines in our media outlets. It involves the possible mining of coal in the Sierra de Perijá, a mountain range that we share with our Colombian neighbors.
Back in February, Maduro signed Decree 1.606, which gives the Oil & Mining Ministry full control of coal mining. Its main focus is in 24.192 hectares located in Western Zulia State, which were previously licensed (but now expired).
PDVSA’s subsidiary Carbones del Zulia (CarboZulia) will be in charge of exploring and exploiting the area, in order to increase production and diversify the country’s income. The coal would either go towards exports or be used for electricity generation.
But the decree has found strong opposition from some of the locals, which have organized street protests and public meetings to reject the idea of exploiting coal in the Perijá mountain range. Some environmental groups are also opposing this decision and they even requested Maduro to repeal his decree by starting a public campaign. (Sound familiar?)
In their view, the entire area’s biodiversity (including a national park) would suffer, as would the nearby rivers, which are the main source of drinkable water for the region. There would be negative health effects for the local inhabitants as well.
Some think it’s a good idea. Others think it’s a disaster-in the-making. Then, there’s WWCD: “What would Chavez do?”
Several years ago, the late comandante presidente was clearly opposed to this particular project, and was very vocal about it. He even dared to say said that if he had to choose between the coal and the forest, he would take the latter.
However, his last electoral platform (Plan de la Patria) mentioned an openness to coal mining in general and, more specifically, to exploiting possible deposits in the Sierra de Perija. Mixed partnerships between private companies and the State (which would have at least 55% of participation) would be in charge. Decree 1.606 justifies itself by using this argument.
Some have laid the blame in the feet of Zulia Governor Francisco Arias Cardenas, who believes that coal-powered plants could help to solve the electricity crisis, but he expressed his opposition to coal extraction in Perijá last year. He remains silent now.
As World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has called nations to take action to reduce fossil fuel dependence, it looks like we’re going the other way around. That’s “eco-socialism” for you: policies where the “socialism” comes first, and the “eco” comes last.