Inside and beyond the Petro-State frontiers: geography of environmental conflicts in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution

Abstract

Venezuela is well known for its century-old oil economy, which has significantly shaped its social fabrics, territories, and eco-systems. Since 1999, the Bolivarian Revolution has led to important transformations in the context of the ‘Socialism of the 21st century’ project, but the extractivist model has deepened. This situation has created or intensified several ecological distribution conflicts, which have been further exacerbated by an extraordinary national crisis unleashed in the period 2013–2016. In this paper, a geography of the 20 most emblematic and representative socio-environmental conflicts in the period of the Bolivarian Revolution is presented. From a comparative political ecology perspective, this article aims to understand how power relations are expressed through territorial configurations and spatial dynamics of resistance, and what are the implications for sustainability. It is argued that a remarkable new situation of environmental injustice is occurring in this period. Despite the ‘eco-socialist’ discourse raised, the current Petro-State has updated the traditional regime on eco-systems, territories, and human bodies primarily by resorting to the assimilation of socio-environmental conflicts through a strategic distribution policy of oil rents. However, it has maintained a pattern of ecological degradation and social marginalization as an outcome of its economic development model. The current context of crisis has fostered intense territorial disputes and conditions for the emergence of new social actors, practices, scenarios, and geographies linked to underground economies and criminal bands, which complicate an already concerning scenario of unsustainability. The current extractivist model is reaching a breaking point. New commodity frontiers have become a main area of dispute.

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Fig. 1

Source: own elaboration. Sixteen zones are presented. Each one represents a specific region defined by the union of ecological, economic, political, and cultural characteristics, which give it its own specificity. The zones are the following: 1 Sierra de Perijá, 2 Western Oil Basin, 3 Noth-Coastal Center, 4 Eastern Oil Basin, 5 Los Llanos-Los Andes bioregions, 6 Upper Orinoco Delta, 7 Lower Orinoco Delta, 8 Eastern Mining Municipalities of Bolívar state, 9 Caroní River Basin, 10 Caura River Basin, 11 Urban-industrial of Bolívar state, 12 Cedeño Municipality, 13 Yanomami territories, 14 South-western Border Area of Amazonas, 15 Manapiare Municipality, and 16 Autana-Puerto Ayacucho-Eje Carretero

Fig. 2

Source: own elaboration based on final case selection. Note that more than one commodity may be involved in one single conflict

Notes

  1. 1.

    From Martínez-Alier (2003) perspective, in this paper the terms ‘ecological distribution conflicts’ and ‘socio-environmental conflicts’ are related to the same type of social conflicts and these can be interchangeable.

  2. 2.

    The formal projects are those that are framed in the economic institutions of the State or the private companies registered before the authorities. On the other hand, informal economic activities are those that are outside official administrative control and are usually linked to self-employment, family economies and illicit activities, among others.

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Acknowledgements

I greatly appreciate the contributions and support of Fundayacucho, Joan Martínez-Alier, Helen Zaiser, Jun Shimada, Hugo Sánchez, Iokiñe Rodríguez, Leah Temper, Ansel Renner, Cruz Mariela Salazar, Fulvia Calcagni, Oscar Rodríguez, Liliana Buitrago, Leonardo Bracamonte, Francisco Herrera, Lena Weber, and Francisco Javier Velasco.

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Correspondence to Emiliano Teran-Mantovani.

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Handled by Leah Temper, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain.

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Teran-Mantovani, E. Inside and beyond the Petro-State frontiers: geography of environmental conflicts in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. Sustain Sci 13, 677–691 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-017-0520-7

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Keywords

  • Environmental conflicts
  • Petro-State
  • Commodity frontiers
  • Venezuela
  • Environmental justice
  • Extractivism
  • Bolivarian Revolution
  • Political ecology