In my 20 years of experience with the Environment Ministry of Venezuela I got to know a responsible institution committed with the protection of nature early at year 2000. To work there was a daily challenge to save natural resources. You could go to any place in the country thanks to a stable job position and sufficient salary, good health insurance. Cars with gentle drivers, and links with planes, boats and choppers to reach distant places on a short time. You could even assist to national and international conferences, constant training and wear a representative outdoor uniform.
My colleagues were biologists, natural resources engineers, botanists, oceanographers, environmental layers and journalists. A professional team prepared in the best universities of Venezuela and abroad. Moreover the experience of my colleagues was the best asset, gathered on continuously field trips, discussing the best solutions possible and taking everyone’s expert opinions into account.
The last decade showed the collapse of functions, no capacities to reach even the closest places of impacted areas near your office, changing of minister and names of the institutions continuously in less than a year -two or three - with low experience in nature conservancy but politically pompous, alarming reduction of salaries, no budgets for operations, and meager benefits. All these constrains have produced an appalling sadness, human resource runs especially from the best and youngest and/or experienced technicians.
But, how could this happen? The Venezuelan Environmental Ministry started with the democracy in the early 60s, being pioneers in the world. However, my experience is on the socialist period (1999 to the present). The first decade of the XXI century was good, several projects were running for each bureau including enough budget, personal and equipment. Ally with national institutions, including military cooperation for safety, and also receiving funding from private companies. By the year 2008 bad politics started to prevail like constant change of strategies including awkward ideas with no practical sense, i.e. “do not use techniques, tools or receive help from the rich countries”. No maintenance of equipment or renewal with new technologies.
As the Venezuelan economies were falling down in the early second decade of the 2000’s, bad environmental policy tightened. Less and less money for the preservation projects was the reason to abandon preservation of endangered species like the side necked Arrau Turtle in the Orinoco River, caimans, birds, control of invasive species like the bull frog in the Andean region. Environmental assessment and supervision was lightened. The idea of Climate Change have no clear leaders inside the institution, it is a flag but twisted with socialism values but not scientifically advised. Another banner is reforestation but politically treated, the best forestry experts are discarded and substituted by unprepared but molded early yes-men’s and yes-women’s, as they “emphasize” in gender. Permits for profitable uses and other environmental concern documents are an entangled process which drive to corruption. Do not look at the offices or restrooms… they are wrecks.
Which are the solutions: A law enforcement prepared ministry and expert unit leaders, with enough budget to work, update transportation and maintenance of the equipment to do the proper surveillances, retrain the youngers new blood, get rid of the bums and lazy personal, redesign office and facilities, new field uniforms for a good image, retake cooperation with the police, national guard and military whom really understand the protection of nature and the need for professional wildlife guards. Above all, throw away the chauvinism politics. If we start to do this, we will have a Governmental Nature Agency to make a better and proud Venezuela.