When we went up to the communities of Wayuumaana and Kasusaain for the first time in 2008, we were mesmerized by the struggle and clarity of the Wayuu that live alongside the Socuy river, defending this territory and the principal artery that supplies Maracaibo with their water. Now once more we went to visit and update ourselves on this struggle for land, water, and dignity.
During this visit we saw that the work of nurseries of native trees to create biocorridors for wild animals and organic crops continues on, along with the breeding of red-footed tortoise, an initiative to save these animals from ending up as the lunch of other inhabitants of the Sierra. Another part of the process of defending this territory, and the fight against coal mining, Autonomous Indigenous Organization Maikiralasalii is implementing its own development that respects the Wayuu view of the land and assures that future Wayuu generations will be able to live in this area and enjoy the same things as those who live there now. This time we saw that the level of the Socuy River was the lowest we'd ever seen it, more evidence of the hard summer that is hitting here as a consequence of the El Niño climate phenomenon.
There are certain things that are very particular and beautiful about these communities that have astonished many people who have visited here including many positions on certain subjects that clash with the stereotype of the Wayuu. One of the positions that amazes people is that it is prohibited to hunt or capture animals in the communities along the Socuy river. For more than 10 years now the howler monkeys and the great variety of macaws, toucans, parrots and parakeets have benefitted from this protection, you already note in their behavior that they don't feel threatened and they are frequenting the land of people who don't do anything to them, each time with less fear of humans. On this occasion, besides seeing those animals, we saw the birds known as mochileros for their particular hanging nest, a caiman and even an otter with three babies at night.
The challenge for Maikiralasalii and the ecological collectives of Maracaibo is very clear, but enormous: to save the water, the land, and life itself, not only of the Sierra de Perijá but of the whole watershed of Lake Maracaibo. Cattle ranching, the mono-cropping of malanga for junk food, and coal mining is the pretext for cutting down the forests, this destroys the soil and the rivers of the Sierra de Perijá and La Guajira which become polluted and dry. Then the communities that are in the path of the transport of coal are left with the constant traffic of heavy machinery and coal dust that covers and pollutes clothing, water, and vegetation – all this before the coal is exported to the US, Canada, or the European Union, where it is burned to generate electricity for those countries and accelerates climate change. The coal also has to pass through coastal communities that live off of small scale fishing and tourism, which are left in ruins by the destruction of the mangroves, beaches, and other marine ecosystems in the area due to the construction of port infrastructure and the pollution from coal that inevitably falls into the ocean, contributing to the serious contamination of Lake Maracaibo.
We were able to be present at one of a series of forums organized by Homo et Natura about strategies for protecting and restoring the Sierra de Perijá and saving Lake Maracaibo, to create a real revolution within the energy model in the state of Zulia and all of Venezuela and launching an initiative to begin to get Venezuela off of its dependence on oil and hydrocarbons. We learned in this forum that Lake Maracaibo really is an estuary due to the presence of both fresh water and salt water because of its connection to the sea, and it is the biggest in the world, and a big part of the contamination of this watershed is not only due to oil extraction but also the use of agricultural chemicals in the surrounding area, making the Catatumbo River the principal tributary of contamination, in grand part due to mono-crops of coca and aerial fumigations of glyphosate in the headwaters which are in Colombia.
Part of the strategy is the large scale generation of energy through wind, solar, and natural gas as a counter-proposal to the creation of Port Bolívar, the coal mines of Perijá, and the coal-fired power plant in Guasare, and to be able to have energy independence in the west of the country from the Gurí dam, on the other end of Venezuela in the state of Bolívar. The idea isn't to create another megaproject this is just the first steps, the real challenge is to use this project to encourage every municipality in the country to generate the megawatts of electricity that they consume within their territory, urban and rural, using small and medium scale solar and wind energy projects, this based on a lot of the principals of distributed generation. That the generation and consumption of energy really be a public good and not a business, and start moving towards houses, city blocks, neighborhoods, apartment buildings, and all kinds of communities achieving energy autonomy.
It's rather ambitious but also innovative and refreshing to see this strategy come from a country and above all a region that historically has been characterized by the exploitation of oil, which has left a tremendous footprint of ecocide. Now this same country is generating these initiatives and research, and pushing forward these efforts to protect such a big area, and the same people and communities are generating these changes. Reflecting on the 5th Congress of Biodiversity, the initiatives within the University Hospital of Maracaibo, Hierba Buena, Ecoluciones Venezuela, Homo et Natura, Maikiralasalii and much more, it’s evident that there is creativity here and the desire to recover this land, from the mountains and rivers of the Sierra, to the beaches and mangroves of the gulf and estuary.
Once again, we had the opportunity to show Mesoamérica Resiste to the members of Maikiralasalii, after one of their assemblies and before an agro-ecology workshop. It's always a pleasure to share our work with the people of Maikiralasalii, since the first time we were there they have appropriated the work of the Beehive Collective so much that they have their own Plan Colombia and True Cost of Coal banners that they use as teaching materials in the autonomous school Yalayalamana where they teach children in the Wayuunaiki language. The people who came to our presentation were very interested, taking notes in their notebooks and commenting on the themes throughout the presentation. There were people who interpreted the explanation into Wayuunaiki for elders who didn't understand Spanish and amongst themselves they talked about the different issues in the banner in their own language. On this visit we only left a few Mesoamérica Resiste posters with Maikiralasalii for them to keep working with, but in the future we hope to facilitate getting them a banner that they can incorporate into their processes of learning and development. After presenting Mesoamérica Resiste, someone from Homo et Natura led a biofertilizer workshop and made a barrel of biofertilizer that was left to ferment for future use.
We continue to support our dear friends from Zulia and Maikiralasalii from afar, and the whole process that they are working on there with as much discipline as the jeyuu (ants) and the wunuu’ain (bees). We hope to be able to return next year, since we've been able to visit at least once a year since 2009, maintaining our support and affinity every year for these processes of defending Mother Earth. Once again we close this cycle in Venezuela, happy for the friendships and partnerships that we have here and the new ones that we're creating on our flight path as Bees. If anyone is interested in supporting the communities of Socuy or other communities in the process of defending their territory through helping us send posters or banners, or other support, please be in touch with us Bees through emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.