The current administration has outlined its development plans in a series of policy documents, which favor an increase in mineral and oil production, as well as integrating the Guayana region into the rest of the national economy. These policies reflect a development model which has been contemplated in other Amazon Basin countries and has led to widespread deforestation and social conflict in parts of these countries.
Most of the administration’s development policies are outlined in the Ninth National Development Plan (See Some Key Elements of the Ninth National Development Plan). Among these policies, the government has emphasized diversification of the country’s export base as a priority, as this could help diminish Venezuela’s reliance on oil as a primary income source. To this end, the government has identified forestry and mining as activities which, if substantially increased, could contribute significantly to the nation’s development.
The area under timber concessions has doubled since 1990; only 1.7 million hectares were under concession in 1990,  while over 3.5 million hectares are currently managed in logging concessions. .
While the total area under concession represents only 4 percent of the country, the rate at which logging concessions are being granted is significant, and officials have indicated that this increase will continue.  Gold production has also increased substantially – from 8.7 tons in 1993 to nearly 20 tons in 1997–more than doubling in four years. 
The PRODESSUR Proposal: Sustainable Development or Uncontrolled Colonization?
The Ninth National Development Plan defers policies for the Guayana region to the Sustainable Development Project for the South (PRODESSUR). Written in 1994 by a committee of policy-makers and military personnel, PRODESSUR has its roots in colonization and development plans of the 1970s.
The 1970s administration unveiled a colonization and development plan for the Guayana Region nationally known as “Conquest of the South,” (CODESUR) which sought to stimulate economic development and integration of the Guayana region with the rest of the country. Based on the need to secure its borders with Brazil and Colombia, the plan focussed on inducing migration to the nation’s remote frontier regions by establishing frontier settlements and promoting agricultural development.
The CODESUR plan was never implemented, in part because it was overly ambitious. However, in 1994, PRODESSUR became the new development policy for the Guayana region. While the document attempts to incorporate sustainable development principles, it is, nonetheless, a virtual reincarnation of the government’s earlier colonization plan. 
Some of the major components of PRODESSUR include:
- Creation of a network of settlements in the “unoccupied” interior of Bolivar and Amazonas states and, especially, along the border with Brazil, Colombia, and Guyana. (In fact, these areas are populated by indigenous peoples.)
- A 15 percent population increase through encouraging migration to the rural portions of the states located south of the Orinoco River.
- Accelerated development of natural resources and economic activities, such as mining, oil exploration, tourism, agriculture, and forestry.
- Construction of infrastructure, such as roads, airstrips, and waterways, to establish a national presence on the border and to ensure the movement of agricultural products and natural resources to outside markets
Such development plans are not new in Amazonian countries. Brazil has also developed similar colonization and economic development proposals for its Amazonian territory. While the desire to stimulate development is well intentioned, colonization schemes in the Amazon have largely failed to provide the expected social and economic benefits and environmental costs have been high (See Colonization of the Brazilian Amazon Basin: “Calha Norte”).
The proposed new mining law
All mining activity is subject to the regulations identified in the 1944 Mining Law, which is now considered to be out of date. When this law was passed, the Venezuelan government discouraged foreign investment by limiting it, and by imposing foreign exchange controls. In addition, the 1944 law preceded much of Venezuela’s environmental legislation, which was not developed until the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, a new mining bill has been circulating in Congress. The latest publicly available draft of the bill was promoted by the Senate Mining Commission.
From an environmental perspective, one of the key dangers of the Senate version is that it is considered organic. Assigning an organic nature to the new mining bill in effect places it above all other legislation, including environmental legislation that affects mining activity, because the new mining law would be more recent than the organic environmental laws currently on the books. This version also appears to ignore the national zoning plan contemplated in the Organic Land Use Zoning Law, by basing all land-use planning on the geographic distribution of minerals. In this respect, the Senate mining bill proposed preferential treatment for mining activity over all other uses, including protection, agriculture, forestry, security, and urban development, implying that all protected areas could be opened for mining activity. The Senate version was criticized by environmentalists and the Ministry of Environment, and a new draft is now being introduced by the Senate Mining Commission. It appears that this version would not be considered organic, although such a possibility still exists. 
In all likelihood, the new law would establish a superintendency of mines, whose primary responsibilities would be to collect taxes on mining concessions and monitor mining activity. An environmental management unit would be part of the new superintendency to facilitate the granting of permits, so mining concessionaires would not have to wait for paperwork approval from the Ministry of Environment. The superintendency would reside within the Ministry of Mines, although both the ministries of Mines and Environment would coordinate monitoring and environmental regulation. While such an arrangement may make sense from a technical mining standpoint, it could lead to decreased environmental oversight over mining activities, especially since these ministries have little record of past collaboration. Such a measure would directly contradict the intent of the Organic Law of Central Administration, which establishes that the responsibility for environmental regulation, administration, and monitoring belongs to the Ministry of Environment.
References and notes
18 C.J. Sharpe et al., “The Effects of Structural Adjustment on the Venezuelan Environment as Illustrated by Trends in Basic Environmental Indicators,” a contribution to the WWF-International/ HIID Project: Structural Adjustment and the Environment (CENDES/UCV: Caracas, 1994).
19 J.C. Centeno, “Estrategia para el desarrollo forestal de Venezuela”, unpublished paper, Mrida, 1995.
20. S. Mendoza, Director of SEFORVEN, personal communication, Jan. 7, 1997.
21. 1993 data from R. Bottome “Guayana Gold Rush: Making up for Lost Time”, VenEconomy Monthly (Caracas, March 1994); 1997 data from E. Romero Guti