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What will happen to Arco Minero and the Special Economic Zones in the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly?

Andrea Pacheco, UPC de CER-Latinoamericana for Aporrea.org

Venezuela is in a countdown that brings it closer to the elections for the National Constituent Assembly that President Maduro requested on May 1st. This has been a controversial fact that has disrupted Venezuelan daily life and whose outcome is linked to the character of the country’s immediate future.

Of the multiple scenarios opened with the installation of an ANC in the presented conditions, one raised by different environmentalists and activists against the installation of the Orinoco Arco Minero is the possibility that this project becomes “constitutionalized” .

“From my point of view is a huge danger. The same can happen with the Special Economic Zones. The Constitution of 1999 has limitations and elements to improve and change, but without a doubt today it means a huge obstacle for the handover interests” says Emma Salazar, university professor and environmentalist.

The mining engine is a central project in this new stage of government economic policy. This engine is one of the 15 that is part of the Bolivarian Economic Agenda launched by the National Executive to “boost the productive apparatus in the country and defeat the oil rentier model” [2].

The implementation of these engines has had various “development schemes” that are interpreted as “investment modalities” in which the state develops its offer of territory and resources. One of the prevailing schemes in this new stage has been the Special Economic Zones (SEZ), which were announced by President Maduro on May 6, 2014, and promulgated in Official Gazette No. 40,554 (dated December 3 of that same year) and have been at the center of the question about how to develop the productive apparatus.

Although several speeches spoke of “reclaiming new special economic zones” coming to propose up to 7 special economic regions [3] only today are enacted only 3 SEZs: Paraguaná, Orinoco Oil Belt and Ureña-San Antonio Border.

Mineros, edo. Bolívar

Concepts and Background

Countries as Taiwan and India were pioneers in this measure with the creation of the SEZs of Kaohsiung and Kandla in the year 1965. However it was China, already in the 80s, that initiates a strong economic opening channeled in part through this modality.

The characteristics of the SEZs are that they offer incentives to foreign investors, expectations of high economic returns, transfer of land rights and concessions to exploit resources of the “host” country, export processing markets, tax exemptions, infrastructural conditions, administrative facilities, cheap labor, expectations of economic growth for the development of domestic markets (4).

Economists and specialists in the subject identify two macro policies that framed the initiative of the SEZ in China and that conceptually can define the process of the ANC with respect to the economic plans and projects in development in Venezuela: these concepts are Neo Institutional Economic Reform and the External Opening.

It seems, as Mexican economist and adviser Carlos Brown Solá points out, that: “The theoretical and historical experience of SEZs clearly indicates that these are implemented mainly in the process of liberalization of the economy” [5].


A Decree that violates Human Rights?

The Arco Minero project is the Decree Law 2248 and is based on the Integral Regionalization Law for the socio-productive development, which is the legal framework for the implementation of the Special Economic Zones, that is, the territory of the Project will be under the determinations of the SEZ. [6]

“This decree contemplates a whole framework of violation of the Constitution and the Organic Laws of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, as well as international treaties to which the country is affiliated. The project began to be implemented without developing the corresponding environmental and socio-cultural impact studies, and concessions have been signed in certain areas of the Arco Minero without carrying out the prior consultation process with the indigenous communities in the area, and without respect to the right to the demarcation of indigenous lands contemplated in the Magna Carta” states the Platform Against the Orinoco Arco Minero in its last declaration. [7]

According to experts and environmental activists, among the articles ¨violentados¨ by this project would be the following:

– In the field of indigenous rights:

Art.119.- “… It shall be the responsibility of the National Executive, with the participation of indigenous peoples, to demarcate and guarantee the right to collective ownership of their lands, which shall be inalienable, imprescriptible, not subject to embargo and nontransferable in accordance with this Constitution and in the law.”

Art. 120.- “The use of the natural resources in the indigenous habitats by the State shall be done without prejudice to the their cultural, social and economic integrity and is also subject to previous information and consultation with the respective indigenous communities … ”

Provea establishes in the Report on the Status of the Right to the Consultation in 2016 that “among the evolution of the recognition of the rights of the indigenous people are the rights to free and informed consultation, participation and consent” [8] . Numerous indigenous organizations and communities have fought for the right to prior consultation as a mechanism to fully guarantee the right to land and territory.

– In the field of environmental rights:

Art. 127.- “It is a right and duty of each generation to protect and maintain the environment for the benefit of itself and the future world. Everyone has the individual and collective right to enjoy life and a safe, healthy and ecologically balanced environment … It is a fundamental obligation of the State, with the active participation of society, to ensure that the population develops in a pollution-free environment , where air, water, soils, coasts, climate, the ozone layer, living species, are specially protected in accordance with the law.

Art.128.- “The state will develop a policy of territorial organization taking into account the ecological, geographical, population, social, cultural, economic, political realities according to the premises of sustainable development that includes information, consultation and citizen participation … ”

Art.129.- “All activities susceptible to damage to ecosystems must be previously accompanied by studies of environmental and socio-cultural impacts …”.

The 159th session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) wass held December 7, 2016 in Panama City. The Venezuelan State acknowledged that it has not yet carried out the environmental impact study ordered by the Constitution, informs the website www.derechos.org [9]

– And the forecasts in the area of sovereignty

Article 301: The State reserves the use of commercial policy to defend the economic activities of national public and private companies. No more beneficial regimes than those established for nationals may be granted to persons, enterprises or foreign bodies. Foreign investment is subject to the same conditions as national investment¨

The national and international backgrounds and experiences of the Special Economic Zones are framed in a policy of Economic Openness as well as the flexibilization of legal frameworks in the most diverse economic and social areas. Regulatory frameworks for polluting activity, labor laws, tax rates and even constitutional mandates can be made more flexible in the SEZ.

Bolivar and illegal miningThe peculiarities of the territory of the south of Bolivar, which is the immediate impact zone of the Orinoco Arco Minero mega mining project, are manipulated according to the reproduction of a mafia-type accumulation regime, underlying the logic of small-scale mining scale or illegal mining.

In fact the project of the Arco Minero has been able to generate expectations in sectors of the population of these territories by the complex realities of the “pranato minero”.

“That is another great danger. The announcements that the mining candidates for the ANC will promote the constitutionalization of small-scale mining and mining brigades, taking into account that in many cases these are experiences that mask the mining mafias. One has to look very carefully what the constituent could mean in the context of these realities” points out Cesar Romero, a metallurgical engineer and researcher.

Aereal picture showing the impact of illegal mining in Parque Nacional Canaima territories

National Constituent Assembly and the Economic Project of the new stage

According to President Maduro, not only would mining and mining brigades be constitutionalised, in fact, with the Constituent Assembly, the Arco Minero could be constitutionalised. “To build the Bolivarian Economic Agenda, the 15 engines, as the guide for Venezuela’s new productive bases, the reference of what Venezuela must assume from here to 20 years, 30 years. 15 engines that we are going to turn into the new plan for a new sustained, constitutionalised project of the development of a country”, said the national president at a meeting of the National Council of Productive Economics held last July 20. At the same meeting, was announced the signing of agreements with Chinese and North American companies in the order of 580 million dollars for “the general development of the Orinoco Arco Minero”.

These new economic realities represent a huge challenge for the environmental and citizen movement that has raised the rejection of this mining project. To deepen in the scope and perspectives of the same as its treatment in the framework of a call of ANC hard questioned by unconstitutional, is a central subject for the national and international public opinion.

National Productive Economy Council Meeting 20/07/2017




  1. These are the comitial bases for the National Constituent Assembly read by President Maduro: http://albaciudad.org/2017/05/maduro-bases-comiciales-asamblea-nacional-constituyente/

2. Thus the 15 engines of the Bolivarian Economic Agenda were restructured: http://www.radiomundial.com.ve/article/as%C3%AD-fueron-reestructurados-los-15-motores-de-la-agenda-econ%C3%B3mica-bolivariana

3. New Special economic Zones: http://www.correodelorinoco.gob.ve/zonas-economicas-especiales-india-opinion/

4.  J, González  y M. Salvador (2009) J Shenzhen, Zona Económica Especial: Bisagra de la Apertura Económica y el Desarrollo Regional Chino, Problemas del Desarrollo Revista Latinoamericana de Economía, Volumen 40, número 156, enero-marzo 2009.  (101-124)

5. Carlos Brown Solá (2015) Zonas Económicas Especiales ¿Política Industrial o Medida Coyuntural? [Online Document] Available: http://www.paradigmas.mx/zonas-economicas-especiales-politica-industrial-o-medida-coyuntural/ [Access on 01/12/2016]

6. Decree 2248: http://www.mp.gob.ve/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=2f65f31f-78ff-4881-979e-6fe17fdfe9f0&groupId=10136

7. Call for Public Assembly for World Day against Megamining for this Saturday, July 22 https://www.aporrea.org/actualidad/n311648.html

8. Report Status of the Right to the Consultation in Venezuela. Year 2016: http://www.derechos.org.ve/pw/wp-content/uploads/Informe-Consulta-Previa.pdf

9. State recognizes in the IACHR that it has not carried out an environmental impact study for Arco Minero: https://www.derechos.org.ve/actualidad/estado-reconoce-en-cidh-que-no-ha-realizado-estudio-de-impacto-ambiental-para-arco-minero

10. President Maduro: Prosperity and development are the destinies of Venezuela: http://www.avn.info.ve/contenido/venezuela-y-china-firman-acuerdo-400-millones-d%C3%B3lares-para-actividades-mineras

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