19 Feb
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Official audits reveal absence of the State and threats to the preservation of national parks

The lack of studies, inventories and monitoring of the state offices of Environment and Inparques caused, according to audits of the Comptroller General of the Republic in 2014, the carrying out of illegal activities, works and settlements in the Médano 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 areas that by law must be specially protected.

One of the main sources of information that the Google search engine provides about the Piedra La Tortuga Natural Monument is the official site of the institution responsible for protecting and conserving this place. The page of the National Institute of Parks indicates that the monument not only has an elementary archaeological and landscape value of the Amazonas state, but also forms part of the cultural heritage of the predominant ethnic groups in this area. “It is a space for the protection of cultural testimonies of our ancestors”, he says. Despite this recognition, official documents reveal that it has been Inparques himself who has failed to comply with his work and has caused actions that threaten 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 Comptroller General of the Republic to the state addresses of the then Ministry of the Environment and Inparques, which were recorded in the institution's reports and accounts and processed in open data by Vendata for reuse. The evaluations indicate that the local offices of both organizations 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, tree felling and mining activities in national parks. Médano de Coro and Canaima, in the Pedernales Forest Area and in the Piedra La Tortuga monument.

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

The Comptroller's Office established in its examinations that the institutional non-compliance of Environment and Inparques violated provisions of seven legal regulations: Organic Law of the Environment, Law of Management of Biological Diversity, Organic Law for Territory Planning on Administration and Management of Parks and Natural Monuments , Organic Law of Municipal Public Power, Forest Soil and Water Law, Regulations for the Administration of Forest Activities, in Forest Reserves, Forest Lots, Forest Areas Under Protection and Forest Areas on Privately Owned Land Destined for Permanent Forest Production, and Organic Law of Communal Councils.

The National Parks Institute is currently directed by Josué Alejandro Lorca Vega, who has held the position since June 2018. Previously, he worked as a substitute member of the board of directors of the "Robert Serra" Mission Youth of the Homeland Foundation and director of the office monitoring and evaluation of public policies of the office of the Minister of Higher Education, as listed by the Official Gazettes search engine of Vendata.

This open data platform also systematized the goals and objectives set by Inparques during 2013 and 2014 and found that half were not met. The processing also revealed inconsistencies in the budget information recorded by Inparques in the reports and accounts of the Ministry of the 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 of 2016 and 2018 have not been published.

Absence of the State

According to the Comptroller General of the Republic, the state offices of Environment and Inparques did not carry out studies, investigations or inventories that would allow establishing 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 said activities and their inclusion in the operational plans, regulations and use plans, as well as the lack of professional and technical personnel in the Surveillance and Control Units. Environmental, to respond to the effects of intervention of existing natural resources", was established in the memory and account of the comptroller entity for 2014.

In the case of the Piedra La Tortuga monument, insufficient staff from Inparques was found, there were no management plans and regulations for use, facilities abandoned or affected by theft, and a lack of duly defined budgets to counteract these circumstances. "A deep well installation for firefighting was observed that is inoperative due to the looting (theft) of the bank of electricity transformers, pumps and electrical wiring," it is detailed. The audit concludes that the gaps in Inparques' obligations allow illegal activities and generate a "high degrading impact" on the flora and fauna of the area.


Stone Turtle Monument


This lack of vigilance and monitoring by Inparques and the state Environment Department 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 the Environment responded to the Comptroller's Office that they only carried out surveillance and control inspections at the request of that ministry or in response to complaints from residents of the surrounding communities. This, says the audit, leads to "activities in the protected area that generate destruction, degradation and fragmentation of ecosystems." The control entity found, for example, a metal tube with residues from an oil well that was located a few meters away. "(This causes) oxygen depletion by generating tar spots, destroying food sources in higher species, and introducing carcinogens into the food chain," he concludes.

Other of the 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 office of Inparques in Falcón does not have biosafety programs to prevent risks to the conversation of the place. It also identifies three illegal urban settlements with precarious basic services in the surrounding area. "This situation is due to the fact that the competent authorities did not consider managing social, economic development and environmental conservation, nor did they prioritize the organized communities that live in the park areas to relocate them in a new urbanism." The Comptroller's Office maintains that the installation of these settlements does not guarantee a sustainable and 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 the Environment. Of the 59 goals that Inparques set for itself during the first 15 months of those two years, regarding projects, equipment, plans and guards for the conservation and maintenance of national and recreational parks, half failed to comply. For example, for 2013, ten infrastructure projects were proposed and none were executed.




Illegal activities


The government of Nicolás Maduro authorized in 2016 the exploitation of coltan, gold and diamond in the area known as the Orinoco Mining Arc or the Venezuelan Mining Arc. It is an extension of 112 thousand square meters that covers part of the Bolívar and Amazonas states. This authorization has been rejected by local environmental organizations that they have considered a negative impact of this exploitation in an area where the Canaima National Park is also located, one of the hundreds of Venezuelan areas under special protection of the State that is also a Natural Heritage of Humanity.

Contrary to the government, in 2014 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 14-05-2014 to the Campo Alegre Indigenous Community, geographically located at the following coordinates: N 04° 45' 80" and W 61º 2' 00", in the eastern sector of the Park Nacional Canaima, the practice of mining activity was evidenced in the vicinity of the Kukenan river, carried out with the use of gasoline pump equipment and conveyor belts for the extraction of gold”, indicates the CGR.

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

In December 2018, a study by the Colombian organization Infoamazonía together with the Amazon Network of Georeferenced Socio-environmental Information detected that of the 2,315 mapped points of illegal mineral extraction in six countries of the Amazon, 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 turned mining into a lucrative but at the same time violent business. At least 12 massacres have taken place in the mines exploited in the arc since 2016.



Just as the Comptroller's Office detected mining activities in Canaima, it also found illegal actions that threaten the conservation of the Piedra La Tortuga monument in Amazonas state. "An illegal entry of vehicles (dirt road) was observed located at the coordinates N 05º 34' 15,3" and W 067º 35' 20,96", which is used for the illegal extraction of wood and cucurito palm, as well as an illegal access for vehicles (clandestine port) located at the coordinates N 05° 34' 38,0” and W 067º 35' 33,5” that is used for the smuggling of goods”, indicates the audit. The CGR also found signs of illegal fishing.

The discovery of illegal timber trafficking is consistent with the investigations that the international criminal police began in 2012 with their "Operation Lead" in Latin America. The operation allowed Interpol to seize around 2013 million dollars in illegal timber trafficking in Venezuela in 40 and begin to put the country on the trail of countries habitual in this activity.

"Venezuela's role in this latest round of timber seizures is remarkable, especially considering that the amount seized in one month represented more than three times the total amount of timber seized internationally during the first phase of the operation." , pointed out at the time a note from the regional organized crime and corruption investigation platform InSight Crime.

The Comptroller's audits 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 man's food chain.

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

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

illegal works

In addition to the breaches of Inparques' obligations and the illegal activities that this has caused, the General Comptroller's Office identified three works that were arranged in two of the audited national parks without having the corresponding permits. These constructions, says the CGR, affect the conservation of the biomes (flora and fauna) present 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 State Directorate of People's Power for the Environment-Amazonas considered the installation of the aforementioned plant to be unfeasible. However, it was verified that Corpoamazonas SA installed and put into operation the plant in question, without having the due environmental impact study, nor the corresponding permits, ”says the audit.

Corpoamazonas is a public company created to implement projects that promote the integral development of the state of Amazonas. In other words, a State company failed to ensure the same obligations that the State establishes. In 2014, this company was directed by the militant of the government party, former minister of Hugo Chávez for Indigenous Peoples and current deputy of the National Assembly, Nicia Maldonado.

The Comptroller's Office also considers two constructions carried out in the Médanos de Coro, in Falcón, illegal. According to the controlling entity, both projects lack supporting documentation and permits. “The existence of two contracts was verified: 'Construction Parque Divino Niño', for the amount of Bs. 1.200.000,00; and 'Construcción Plaza Magglio Ordóñez', for an amount of Bs. 499.696,91, specifically executed in Paseo Monseñor Iturriza, during the year 2012, which do not have any support related to the permit application, nor the respective authorization from of the National Institute of Parks for the execution of the aforementioned works, as provided for in article two, sole paragraph of the Management Plan and Regulations for the Use of the Médanos de Coro National Park”, the audit indicates.

The report does not indicate which public or private entity was in charge of the construction of the works, but indicates that the Coro mayor's office did not process the respective authorizations. “(This) affects negatively in the administration and conservation, whenever constructions are carried out that are not in accordance to preserve and conserve the ecosystems and landscapes of the Médanos de Coro National Park”, he points out.