Venezuela's Amazon: From Beauty to Beast

Cristina Burelli spoke with AS/COA's Eric Farnsworth about the dangers facing the country's Amazonian region and how the international community can help.

In an AS/COA conversation on the state of the Venezuelan Amazonia, AS/COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth spoke with Amazon advocate Cristina Burelli, co-founder and executive director of V5 Initiative, on the dangers and disruptions to Venezuela’s rainforest. “We don’t really hear about the Venezuelan Amazonia because the country never pitched itself as an Amazonian country, rather, as an oil country,” Burelli explained. The South American country’s portion of the tropical rainforest makes only up 6 percent of the entire basin, yet its “incredibly important part,” rich in diversity and overlapping the Guyana Shield, a Precambrian geological formation that is one of the oldest in the world.

Burelli spoke of the demise of the oil industry in Venezuela and how it paved the way for illegal mining in the delicate ecosystem. This poses dangers to not only the environment but also to indigenous communities. “It’s tragic,” Burelli said, “[indigenous communities] are bearing the brunt of illegal mining. What’s going on is that thousands of illegal miners—people searching for a way to survive—managed by criminal groups are put to work. This is modern slavery.” Indigenous groups then get caught in this illicit economy, Burelli explained.

Farnsworth asked what Burelli’s message to the international community is regarding this issue. The advocate said that Venezuela needs to be put back on the map of Amazonia, and the international community, environmentalists, major NGOs, and countries like Norway all need to understand that Venezuela is a key part of this critical, continuous biosphere.

Burelli is also the founder of SOSOrinoco, which produced the documentary Arco Minero del Orinoco, ¿Ecocidio o Suicidio? In August 2021, the documentary won third place in the 2021 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest.