The Orinoco Mining Arc and the Kueka Stone: Chavismo’s Compensatory Multiculturalism

Photo credit: Twitter of Aloha Nuñez, VP for Indigenous Peoples of the PSUV

By Omar Vazquez Heredia

Since 1999, the Chavista regime has established a relationship between the State and the indigenous peoples settled in Venezuelan territory that I have called “compensatory multiculturalism” in the context of the research “The Chavista Question. Extractive State and Oil Nation” (2018), specifically in the chapter entitled “The State apparatus and the indigenous peoples in Chavista Venezuela. The construction of a compensatory multiculturalism”.

In this sense, as part of the subordination of the struggles of the indigenous peoples in the last decades of the 20th century, the Venezuelan State apparatus has recognized and valued the differences between the dominant modern-colonial culture of Venezuelan capitalism and the subordinate communal cultures of the indigenous peoples, but at the same time it has prevented a hierarchical shift in the historical relationship between these two cultures, crystallized in a set of social relations and practices that are antagonistic.

In concrete terms, with legal norms and symbolic gestures, the Chavista government recognized and exalted the cultural specificity of the indigenous peoples and made them beneficiaries of an assistance policy such as the Guaicaipuro Mission, but at the same time it blocked any possibility of internal self-determination and reproduction of their communal practices by obstructing and dismantling the autonomous and collective control of their ancestral lands, because it kept them at the service of the necessities of the global and local process of capital accumulation based on the conservation and intensification of the characteristics of Venezuela’s dependent and extractive capitalism.

In Chapter VIII of the 1999 Constitution, the State recognized the intercultural nature of Venezuelan society and a set of rights for indigenous peoples, such as prior consultation, demarcation and collective ownership of their ancestral lands, intercultural and bilingual education, traditional medicine, indigenous jurisdiction, and communal economic practices based on reciprocity, among others. Later, the government of Hugo Chávez developed a multicultural historical revisionism: he named October 12 as the Day of Indigenous Resistance, placed the figure of Guaicaipuro on a bill in the monetary cone and took it symbolically to the National Pantheon, boosted indigenous peoples as the origin of community organizations such as communal councils and communes, made changes to school texts, recognized indigenous languages, and created a ministry of indigenous peoples.

However, beyond these symbolic concessions and the compensatory distribution of oil income to indigenous peoples through the Guaicaipuro Mission, the Hugo Chávez government prevented their internal self-determination and the reproduction of their socio-cultures by blocking autonomous and collective control of their ancestral lands. Thus, it denied the delimitation and handing over of all the ancestral lands demanded by the indigenous peoples, and in the cases where it handed over collective property titles to indigenous communities, it did so with two characteristics that denied its supposed objective.

First, they fragmented the collective property titles held by indigenous communities, and this curtailed the extension that was indispensable for the sustainable reproduction of the indigenous habitat. Second, the collective property titles were handed over without detriment to the rights of third parties previously established in those lands, so they maintained the presence in those places of private landowners, transnational companies and economic institutions of the State such as regional corporations and state enterprises like PDVSA. This intensified the dispute for control of the lands and ended with the persecution and assassination of indigenous leaders such as the Yukpa Chief Sabino Romero, in the Sierra de Perija in March 2013.

Orinoco Mining Arch and Kueka Stone    

In 2011, Hugo Chavez approved a strategic action plan to build an extractive axis around the Orinoco River, which would have the Oil Belt (Faja Petrolera) in the north and the Mining Arc (Arco Minero) in the south. In 2012, in the historical objective number 3 of the so-called Plan de la Patria, Hugo Chavez himself established the Orinoco Mining Arc as a central part of his programmatic legacy.

Later, in 2016, the Nicolas Maduro government began to implement this mega-mining project through Decree No. 2248, published in Official Gazette No. 40855 which constituted the “Orinoco Mining Arc” strategic national development zone. Since its conception and in its execution, it has implied an exponential increase of the territories of Venezuela integrated to the mining exploitation and the deepening of the transformation of the nature in an object of work and a merchandise by the apparatus of the Venezuelan State, the transnational capital and the irregular armed organizations.

The Orinoco Mining Arc demonstrates the modern-colonial and surrender character of the government of Nicolás Maduro, which defines the indigenous peoples living in these ancestral lands and nature as an object to be sacrificed for the benefit of the accumulation and hoarding of the transnational and local ruling classes.

In this sense, the creation of the Orinoco Mining Arc to extract gold in demand on the world market has led to the presence and violent actions of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) and irregular armed organizations, resulting in the murder, torture, kidnapping and constant intimidation of the indigenous peoples living in these territories.

However, despite this genocidal and ethnocidal policy, adjusted to the needs of global capitalism and the corrupt business of civil and military leaders of the Chavista bloc, the government of Nicolás Maduro wants to present itself as a defender of the culture of the Pemon people, with the efforts made to return the Kueka Stone to the ancestral territory of the Pemon. This sacred symbol of the Pemon people, which represents their ancestry as grandfathers and grandmothers, spent 22 years in Berlin’s Tiergarten park because the government of Rafael Caldera, in a totally colonial decision, gave it to the German artist Wolfang Von Schwarzenfeld for his Global Stone project, regardless of the Pemon’s rejection of it.

This grotesque and macabre renewal of compensatory multiculturalism, typical of Chavismo, is once again evident in its latest state policies: on April 7th, the so-called Ministry of Ecological Mining Development, through Resolution No. 0010, assigned new territories in the basins of the Cuchivero and Caura rivers to extract gold, and on April 16th the government as a whole made a media display to announce the arrival of the Kueka Stone to the country. Thus, we see the overlapping of a merely symbolic recognition of the indigenous peoples and the concrete appropriation of their ancestral territories to place them at the service of the global and local regime of capital accumulation by dispossession.

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