Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Wikileaks y el record medioambiental de la revolución Bolivariana

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CARACAS 000511 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/21/2019 
     B. 2007 CARACAS 1755 
CARACAS 00000511  001.2 OF 003 
Classified By: Economic Counselor Darnall Steuart for reasons 1.4 
(b) and (d). 
1. (C) SUMMARY:  NGO Conservation International closed its 
doors in Venezuela on March 31 saying it wanted to focus on 
countries where it can have an impact on host government 
environmental policies.  The Venezuelan head of another 
US-based NGO, The Nature Conservancy, said the government 
would gladly sacrifice US NGO's expertise if they dare to 
adopt higher profiles in Venezuela as "the anti-yankee 
discourse is more important to the government than its work 
on the environment."  Nationalization of private nature 
reserves, ostensibly to increase agricultural production, 
along with the government's plans to take control of all 
international funding for NGOs (Ref A) also raise serious 
concerns in the sector.  Claims that Chavez would be 
Venezuela's "first green president" now ring hollow.  END 
2. (C) Econoff met with Ana Liz Flores (protect throughout), 
Executive Director of the Venezuelan chapter of US NGO 
Conservation International (CI), on April 2.  Flores said 
that while CI officially closed on March 31, its 
administrative operations in Venezuela will continue until 
May 31, 2009.  After May, CI has not yet determined what will 
happen to 44 of its 45 projects in Venezuela.  To her 
knowledge, Venezuela will be the only office CI will close in 
Latin America.  CI's Venezuelan partners told the press March 
28 that CI's decision was "an enormous loss" for Venezuela, 
leaving more than 100 environmental experts with nowhere to 
go for funding.  (NOTE:  By some measures, Venezuela is one 
of the world's top 20 most biodiverse countries and is often 
found among top ten lists for countries with the largest net 
forest loss per year (Ref B).  END NOTE.) 
3. (C) Flores lamented the CI departure, noting that once it 
is gone, it will be impossible for CI to re-enter Venezuela 
as long as Chavez is in office.  (NOTE:  The World 
Conservation Society has been trying to obtain permission to 
begin operations in Venezuela for over a year from the 
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has failed.  END NOTE.)  She 
added that the proposed "Law on International Cooperation", 
which would allow the central government to manage and 
distribute all international funding for NGOs, would be 
"devastating" to environmental efforts in Venezuela.  She is 
hopeful the law will not pass as the government has no 
systems in place to implement its provisions. 
4. (C) Flores contended that CI Headquarters does not 
understand that it is still possible to "get things done in 
Venezuela."  CI Venezuela's "low profile, take no credit for 
any project" approach frustrated CI headquarters.  She said 
CI Venezuela had to take this approach or the government 
would not have allowed CI to continue its work.  CI 
Headquarters was also disgruntled with its inability to work 
with the Venezuelan government on programs or policy.  She 
noted that the Ministry of Environment is staffed by radical, 
anti-US politicians focused on ideology with no funding for, 
or understanding of, environmental programs.  The Venezuelan 
Park Service INPARQUES changed directors six times in the 
last 12 months, she added, and there are rumors it will be 
eliminated and not replaced.  Flores said that in spite of 
this, CI Venezuela was starting to discover effective ways to 
bypass the central government and she deeply regreted CI's 
decision to leave. 
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5. (C) Econoff met with another major US-based environmental 
NGO, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), March 4.  In spite of 
serious issues with the Venezuelan Government and a recent 
CARACAS 00000511  002.2 OF 003 
drop in donations, the Venezuela Country Representative for 
TNC, Lila Gil (protect throughout), views Venezuela as a high 
priority.  She said TNC is the only major environmental 
organization left in Venezuela and it will stay as long as 
the government allows.  If TNC were to leave Venezuela, Gil 
feels most foundation money would leave with it.  She 
explained that foundations do not trust the Venezuelan 
government and would not fund projects without an 
internationally recognized NGO to manage the money. 
Additionally, after years of effort, in 2008 TNC completed an 
extensive conservation plan for government-owned petroleum 
company, PDVSA.  Although PDVSA refused to allow TNC to 
publish the plan, and its participation in the study was 
highly criticized by Chavez supporters, Gil pointed to this 
unusual example of cooperation with a government entity as 
another reason TNC plans to stay in Venezuela. 
6. (C) Gil also emphasized the importance of keeping a low 
profile as a US-based NGO.  She said that unlike TNC's 
offices in Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia, TNC cannot lobby the 
Venezuelan government directly due to its US connection.  Gil 
added that "The New York Times" contacted her several months 
ago about doing a story on TNC's work in Venezuela, but TNC 
refused out of fear of government retaliation.  She suggested 
that if TNC adopted a higher profile, the Venezuelan 
government would gladly sacrifice TNC's expertise and funding 
in order to make an "anti-yankee" statement. 
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7. (C) Professor Edgard Yerena (protect throughout), 
biologist and specialist in environmental policy at public 
university Simon Bolivar, told Econoff on February 18 that as 
a direct result of government policies, Venezuela has 
experienced a dramatic increase in deforestation in the last 
ten years.  Yerena conceded, however, that the government 
does not publish official figures on deforestation and, 
lacking government support, experts in the sector have had 
difficulty coming up with hard data on the extent of the 
damage.  He also noted that ecologists contend there has been 
a dramatic increase in oil spills and mining mishaps, but it 
is equally impossible to get official data in these areas. 
8. (C) Although 15 percent of Venezuela is theoretically 
protected under the INPARQUES national park system, he said 
most of the parks are abandoned and even the government 
builds in them.  He said the government's permissive attitude 
and failure to protect the parks promotes land invasions. 
Cutting down trees in national parks helps reinforce 
squatters' ownership claims in the government's eyes. 
Additionally, Yerena added, on large estates or "Hatos", 
deforestation proves to the government that the land is being 
used to produce food and lessens the risk of nationalization 
due to lack of production. 
9. (C) Yerena noted the government nationalized large swathes 
of the 148,000 acre Hato Pinero estate in spite of the 
owners' arguments that they were not producing crops because 
the estate contains one of the country's most important, 
privately owned wildlife reserves.  The government only 
recognizes that large land owners have a right to 10 percent 
of their estates.  Without real property rights, Yerena 
opined, it no longer makes sense for estate owners to invest 
in their eco-tourism infrastructure and many have stopped 
employing guards that have kept poachers at bay for years. 
(Note:  The President of the government's National Institute 
of Lands claimed on March 29 that the Institute had reviewed 
14.8 million privately owned acres and found 90 percent of 
them should belong to the "nation".  Within 15 days starting 
April 21, the Institute plans to "reclaim" 71,000 acres.  End 
10. (C) There seems to be a consensus among environmental 
NGOs and academia that it is nearly impossible to work with 
CARACAS 00000511  003.2 OF 003 
the central government on environmental issues.  Although 
hard data is in short supply, the current administration's 
policies appear to have stepped up the pace of environmental 
degradation in one of the most biodiverse countries in the 
world.  Neglect of national parks and lack of funding, as 
well as government actions that threaten NGOs and encourage 
deforestation, have lent little credence to claims that 
Chavez would be the "first green President" in Venezuela. 

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