Venezuela

Guillermo Barreto: “If we don’t guarantee water for the future, then we aren’t socialists”

Translated by Venezuelanalysis.com

Apr 29th 2015, by Ciudad CCS/ Guillermo Barreto

In this interview with Caracas based newspaper Ciudad CCS, Venezuela’s new Minister of Eco-Socialism, Guillermo Barreto, gives readers an insight into the government’s vision for its environment policy.

The construction of three new household waste management plants in the Metropolitan District of Caracas and the creation of an institution to work alongside state oil company PDVSA and orientate its projects in the Orinoco Belt, are just some of the announcements that the new Minister of Eco-Socialism and Water made in this interview with Ciudad CCS.

The biologist, Guillermo Barreto – named minister by President Nicolas Maduro following the splitting of the Environment Ministry and the Ministry for Habitat and Housing – stated that the only way of sustaining socialism is by converting the environment into one of its focal points.

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[These ministries had been joined recently…] Is their separation a step backwards?

The idea of amalgamating the two ministries is interesting and it has several origins. On the one hand, it was necessary to shakeup the political management of the environment. The other origin comes from the idea that we are moving towards a different or eco-socialist society in which there is a more harmonic relationship with nature and in which human settlements become yet another ecosystem. However, given the fact that the government’s Housing Mission is the most important mission that we are carrying out at this moment, we had to give (housing) Minister Molina the space to meet our goals, which are extremely ambitious.

What is the result of the institutional shake-up?

An internal restructure, a redefinition of the proposals concerning where we need to take our management of the environment.

And where to we need to take it?

Towards the construction of a new society in which the environment is a central component and where it is is understood as the only way of sustaining socialism. This means solidarity between human beings, and not just between us right now, but also amongst our children, grandchildren and great grand children. If we guarantee access to water to the entire population, then we are socialists, but if we can’t guarantee it for future generations, well, then we are not so socialist…

What are the results in terms of our administrative capacity?

The result is that it has initiated a restructure process that was in progress. Now we are going to build a different ministry.

Why an eco-socialism ministry and not an environment ministry?

Because the hegemonic discourse has resulted in the labelling of the “environment” as something romantic and hippy, isolating the concept from social and economic systems. This concept places those who defend the environment in one trench against those who defend development. There is no possible dialogue and everyone ends up losing. When we talk about eco-socialism, we are referring to the organic public governance which is going to build a new society in which the environment must play an integral part.

Today we have a Ministry of Eco-socialism, but we have to get to the point where all of our public governance is eco-socialist, regardless of whether we are talking about extracting oil or the construction of bridges and homes.

Does this imply a compromise between development and the need to protect the environment in the long run?

Of course, but paradoxically we have to deepen our political management of the environment. We cannot isolate ourselves from nature. We have to understand that protected areas are necessary, but that also includes people. When we don’t take people into account it leads to conflict and then in the end we don’t reach our objectives.

This discourse around harmonising development whilst protecting the environment, doesn’t that imply a compromise with the logic of capitalism?

No. We have to go about changing from an extraction-based, basically capitalist model, to a model in which the extraction of resources is not orientated towards capitalist accumulation, but rather towards satisfying the needs of the people. This means that you eat what you have to eat and you use what you have to use, but no more than that. This change is gradual, we can’t do it overnight, but what is important is to maintain a vision of the future, that new society in which we cannot repeat the patterns of capitalism.

That was the error of socialism in the 20th century, which tried to meet a its social obligations but maintained an extraction based-model which produced huge environmental damage and that translated to a society which was not sustainable. They changed the owners of production, but the logic remained the same.

Why a Ministry of Water?

President Maduro is extremely invested in ensuring access to water for the entire population. Many goals have been reached throughout these 15 years of the Bolivarian Government, but we still have constraints that we must keep overcoming. That’s the reason for the use of the term; the importance that we are giving to it and the organic vision that we have of the issue.

Will it continue to be a Ministry that authorises permits?

Permits are an important part of government. The problem of permits in general is not the permit itself, but the fact that the process of granting the permit ends up being extremely bureaucratic and it loses its point, which is to protect nature and reduce negative impact on the environment. It’s important to restructure in order to correct this. The permit shouldn’t be an obstacle to production, unless that production is an attack on the environment. This is why we must take the bureaucracy out of authorising permits, and make the process more efficient.

Three waste management plants in Caracas

What is the current situation in the management of household waste?

We are in a process of substituting garbage dumps for landfill sites. This is something which has been started and which we are going to keep pursuing.

How is this being managed in Caracas?

We are working flat-out on developing three more transfer areas in Caracas. This is the intermediary point between garbage collection and the final disposal site. This would allow us to gradually eliminate the transfer site in Las Mayas. By incorporating these new areas we will be making collection more efficient, since the collection runs would be shorter and we could increase their frequency.

Where would these transfer sites be in Caracas?

We are working on several options for the projects. One of them is a transfer plant in the East of the city to free up the areas of Baruta, El Hatillo, Chacao and Sucre. And we would have one in Libertador, towards the west.

Will we continue to use landfill technology or are we moving towards a different model?

We have to move towards a different model. For now, we will maintain landfill technology because we still don’t have the conditions to change it radically. We can’t close ourselves off to re-using and recycling, but they aren’t the answer. The solution must come from further back and it’s about trying to change consumer habits.

Will the production of non-reusable bottles be penalised or punished?

This is something that we have to study. We are talking about decisions which can have an economic impact, but we bear the responsibility of studying how to generate less waste and promote a responsible use of things amongst the population; how things are consumed and how they are later disposed of.

Will we continue to assume that the responsibility for rubbish is the consumer and not the producer?

No, no, on the contrary. We have to see who is producing rubbish, how it is produced, how the consumption of unnecessary items is publicised and how we deal with that. It’s a very complex issue. The internal changes to the ministry aren’t about changing the desks or the names of those in charge, but rather about changing the vision of those in charge. We have to resolve the problem urgently, but also from a structural perspective.

Water and the communal state

Will we still proceed with the national water plan?

The president has spoken about both the temporary situation and the structural situation. We have to respond to what is most urgent – for instance, if a pipeline ends up broken and a community is left without water. However, at the same time, we have to address how we resolve that in the long term. In the last few weeks the president has approved an extraordinary amount of funds for two particular cases, which are the states of Falcon and Vargas.

What are the public works for Falcon?

Firstly, there is a diversion that is being constructed between three dams in the northern part of the state towards Paraguana. There is the renovation of water collection at the Maticora reservoir, the biggest in the state, that had sedimentation problems due to the drought that we experienced. This is in order to create a system that allows us to collect water more efficiently from the reservoir.

Are there small works being carried out on local systems?

Yes we are working to recover deep local wells and common water supply lines. In the case of Falcon, we are talking about an investment of more than 1 billion 500 million Bolivars in the first stage. In the case of Vargas, the first stage equates to more than 1 billion 300 million Bolivars.

What is the extensive public work begin carried out in Vargas?

The Puerto Maya reservoir…

Is this project included within the aforementioned approved government funds?

Yes, the first stage is included in those resources, the beginning. This work won’t be ready for this year, but it will be what offers a more secure water supply to this region.

Is this project aiming to repair the waterline between Puerto Maya and Picure, which is often out of action?

This is part of what we are doing, substituting obsolete parts in the pipelines.

And in the rest of the country?

There is a plan to carry out public works in all states in the country which is being worked on by both local government and hydrological companies. We are trying to find resources to finish several projects and begin others.

Are you going to maintain state water councils?

That is something we have to study…

And the participation of the Technical Water Councils?

Those will always be maintained because our objective is to create the Communal State.

Coal in Zulia and Gold in the South

What is going to be done with the coal in Zulia? Chavez said that that it should be left under the ground, given that its extraction would damage the environment…

We have to begin a series of work tables alongside the communities and Zulia’s local government. This is on our agenda, we must begin to discuss and debate it seriously and responsibly.

What does a responsible discussion translate to?

It means analysing the need for this, the possible alternatives, the final objective, which is achieving the preservation of the ecosystem and above all, the wellbeing of the surrounding communities which live there.

It’s necessary to look for an alternative way of governing in that region (Zulia) and that’s why we have to sit down with all actors and evaluate all the variables, and not just be led by the economic element. We must take into account the social sphere; there are indigenous communities that live there and they have a traditional way of relating to nature which we have to respect.

What is being done in relation to the illegal extraction of gold in the south of the country?

We have had meetings with the Ministers of Mining, Communes and Indigenous Peoples, aimed at trying to put gold mining in order. There is a section of this mining which is illegal and which produces terrible social and environmental damage. It is a very delicate issue which we must manage with caution.

Eco-socialism in the (Orinoco) Oil Belt

What is being done with respect to the impact that activities in the Orinoco Oil Belt can cause?

In the new structure of the ministry we have created an institution specifically for this issue. Not just from the point of view of granting authorisation, because we don’t just want to limit ourselves to approving or rejecting permits; rather we have to be a part of what is being done in that area. We have to work with PDVSA to make sure that development in the belt is the most harmonious that it can be with nature. We are an oil producing country, and we need those resources, but we need to do it in a better way and that’s where the Ministry, as a decision-making body, comes into play in terms of what is done in the zone.

You wouldn’t play the role of judge and jury, rather you would be orientating and re-orientating projects?

Exactly, orientating so that they are done in such a way as to preserve the territory, and when we talk about territory, we are referring to both nature and the people.

La Tortuga Island and Tourism

On the Island of La Tortuga there is a project to build a hotel complex with around 2000 rooms. What is the status of that?

We have got our eye on that to work in conjunction with Mintur (Ministry of Tourism) in such a way as that touristic development, which we consider to be really important for the nation, is done as harmoniously as possible. In fact, something that took place over the last few months was the installation of the High Institute of Parks, which is a level of political management for protected areas. This includes, amongst others, the Ministry of Tourism, and is aimed at creating better government ability in these areas, and especially in our national parks.

This has allowed us to integrate the efforts of the diverse bodies that were often working separately. The national park is an important area of public use, in fact 80% of Venezuelan tourists spend their holidays in national parks. Furthermore, in these areas there is a population which usually lives inside or in the surrounding area, which is why maintaining these areas requires the organisation of the people.

This has allowed us to channel the efforts of everybody and ensure that the Ministry, in the remit of the environment, doesn’t appear to be something which impedes the action of others. We have to work together in this so that everything comes out for the best.

In this model, channeling efforts and responsibilities, what is the role of environmental organizations?

It’s about trying to establish joint responsibility in governance. If this is going to be a Ministry of Popular Power, it has to work with people’s power. Not us saying what they should do and them acting like we are the enemy. It’s about them adopting, on the one hand, a role in the social auditing process, and on the other, integrating into [the ministry’s] projects.

How is the issue of wildlife trafficking being managed?

This is being managed with the National Bolivarian Guard, which is responsible for protecting the environment, and of course, with the Public Prosecutor’s Office. We are detecting the areas where there is a higher level of trafficking.

What species are being fundamentally affected?

In Venezuela the trafficking of birds is very significant. Above all of parrots and macaws, destined for North America and Europe. It’s a a very cruel business and the people must know it. Whomever buys a parrot is probably buying a chick that was kidnapped from its nest, and its mother almost certainly killed to capture it. They are confining an animal in solitude when it is a social animal which usually lives in partnership. The way in which they are transported causes the death of at least half of them, but that doesn’t matter to the trafficker because they sell the ones that manage to stay alive at such a high price that they get back much more than what they invested.

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