Isaac  Nahon-Serfaty Author of Evaluating Organization Development
FEATURED AUTHOR

Isaac Nahon-Serfaty

Associate Professor
Department of Communication, University of Ottawa

I have both an academic and professional background in health communication and public relations. My current research studies the economy of emotions in publication communication. I just published the book Strategic Communication and Deformative Transparency. Persuasion in Politics, Propaganda, and Public Health (Routledge) about the role of the visually grotesque in communication campaigns. My next publication will be focused on the study of the kitsch in public communication.

Biography

I have both an academic and professional background in health communication and public relations. My current research studies the economy of emotions in publication communication. I just published the book Strategic Communication and Deformative Transparency. Persuasion in Politics, Propaganda, and Public Health (Routledge) about the role of the visually grotesque in communication campaigns. My next publication will be focused on the study of the kitsch in public communication as a manifestation of “sentimentalism” and not only of “bad taste.” This research program is part of larger reflection about the sensible and senses in different communication situations, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Ottawa. I am also interested in healthcare policies and political communication in Latin America, where I have developed research-action projects to enhance the advocacy capabilities of non-governmental organizations. Before moving to Ottawa, I was the Healthcare Practice Director at Burson-Marsteller Latin America, based in Miami.

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    Health communication; public relations; institutional communication; political communication; discourse and public policy; international communication.

Personal Interests

    Music, philosophy, fiction writing, oral narrative, journalism.

Websites

Books

Featured Title
 Featured Title - Strategic Comm Deformative Transparency; Nahon-Serfaty - 1st Edition book cover

Articles

International Journal of Cultural Studies

Towards a theory of grotesque transparency: The case of Hugo Chávez


Published: Nov 01, 2016 by International Journal of Cultural Studies
Authors: Isaac Nahon-Serfaty
Subjects: Media and Cultural Studies, Communications Studies, Media Communication

The main objective of this article is to lay the foundations of a theory of grotesque transparency that looks into the aesthetics of ‘ocular politics’. Inspired by Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s definition of the esperpento – a grotesque representation of the hero – this interpretative schema uncovers the rhetorical, narrative and iconic mechanisms that constitute a form of political communication that creates the illusion of total affective disclosure.

Revista Iberoamericana de Estudios de Desarrollo

Comunicación y empoderamiento ciudadano en salud: un caso de investigación-acción en la Venezuela polarizada


Published: Dec 01, 2015 by Revista Iberoamericana de Estudios de Desarrollo
Authors: Isaac Nahon-Serfaty & Mahmoud Eid
Subjects: Sociology & Social Policy, Health and Social Care, Communication Studies

En el marco de un proyecto de investigación-acción que se implementó en Venezuela de 2009 a 2013 se buscó empoderar (empower) a activistas sociales y pacientes en la lucha contra el cáncer de mama (CM). Este proyecto se puso en marcha en un contexto de alta polarización política y social en el marco de la llamada «Revolución bolivariana».

News

Trump and Kim in the era of celebrity politics

By: Isaac Nahon-Serfaty
Subjects: Communication Studies, Mass Communications, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications

The Israeli scholars Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz defined ‘media events’ as the High Holidays of Mass Communication, a festive televised ritual that captures the attention of global audiences and shapes the public imagination. We can say that the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit had all the elements of a ‘media event’: the ceremonial, the charismatic and even the celebratory aspects because of the uniqueness of this first meeting between a US president and a North Korean dictator. It also had something that has been part of some of the most remembered media events; a kitschy and even sentimentally cloying side. And Trump greatly contributed to this by presenting to the communist leader a ‘movie trailer’ video with an epic tone.

We should not be surprised by the format and the content of this media event, and not even by the video produced by Trump’s team. They are accurate – and somewhat transparent -representations of what these political actors are: highly narcissistic characters in need of constant positive reinforcement with zero toleration to criticism. To the sociological or even anthropological dimensions of every media event – as rightfully analyzed by Dayan and Katz – we need to add the psychopathological component. The Trump – Kim performance is a showcase of their personalities, and this is not a minor detail when it comes to spectacular politics. As the scholar Jeffrey E. Green said, we are immersed in ‘ocular politics’ that undermines the rationality of citizens participating in public life, and leverages aesthetics and emotions as drivers of political opinions and engagement. But there is nothing new in the psychopathology of power, since the Roman Emperor Caligula to Adolf Hitler, and the complex relationship that the ‘disturbed leaders’ entertain with their followers.

How media events are changing in the era of digital networks and social media? Media events are no longer, or exclusively, televised spectacles consumed more or less at the same time by a captive audience. They are part of a highly fragmented multimedia sphere competing against all kinds of information, images, entertainment, perversions, going from the sublime to the grotesque. They have also lost some of their sacredness as rituals lived collectively. Gathering in front of the TV – think about the moon landing in 1969 or the funerals of Lady Di in 1997 – the public had a “communal experience” very close to the religious celebration.

In the era of smart phones, portable computers and tablets, the media event is a more individualized moment no longer requiring the collective connection at the same date and time. It is lived as an atomized experience on which the spectator can add his/her own perspective. The memes about the Trump-Kim summer reflect the creativity and irreverence of the public that is no longer a mesmerized TV watcher. And there is the celebrity culture that permeates politics, economy and religion. Kim Jong-un, the usually cryptic dictator, enjoyed his time in Singapore showing off like a star, selfie included. Dennis Rodman, the celebrity basket player, who visited Kim five years ago, added his sentimental moment to the occasion by weeping during an interview with CNN.

However, this summit is also an interesting case of the co-existence of two models of society. In North Korea, the media event was under the control of the state propaganda apparatus praising the ‘beloved leader’ as the peace maker. This time, North Koreans were exceptionally informed about the summit almost at the same that was happening. In the US received broad coverage reflecting varied opinions on the value of this historic encounter between former enemies transfigured in best friends. It is certainly a case for a comparative study of a media event being witnessed by two set of audiences, one living under a repressive and closed regime with a very limited use of social networks, and another one living in the exuberant world of global information and entertainment.

Finally, we should ask in what way media event say about the quality of our political leadership. Dayan and Katz analyzed the visit of the Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat to Jerusalem in 1977. That was a dramatic moment in global politics that eventually led to the signature of the Camp David Peace Accords in 1978 between Israel and Egypt. That also was the first encounter between two enemies: Sadat, a former general and president of Egypt during the Yom Kippur war in 1974, and Menachem Begin, the hawkish Israeli prime minister. However, it’s too early to say if Trump and Kim will show the diplomatic savoir-faire to achieve peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and the region. If they will be able to go beyond the spectacular images, the ‘movie trailers’ and the funny memes.

The hypodermic effect: How propaganda manipulates our emotions

By: Isaac Nahon-Serfaty
Subjects: Communication Studies, Communications Studies, Media and Cultural Studies, Media, Journalism and Communications

<h1>The hypodermic effect: How propaganda manipulates our emotions</h1>

<figure>
<img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/215824/original/file-20180422-75104-1n8b5ob.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip" alt="File 20180422 75104 1n8b5ob.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1" />
<figcaption>
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg departs after testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in April 2018 about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 presidential election and data privacy.
<span class="attribution"><span class="source">(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)</span></span>
</figcaption>
</figure>

<span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/isaac-nahon-serfaty-460879">Isaac Nahon-Serfaty</a>, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-ottawa-1165">University of Ottawa</a></em></span>

<p>The scandal surrounding the improper use of data by <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-cambridge-analytica/cambridge-analytica-ceo-claims-influence-on-u-s-election-facebook-questioned-idUSKBN1GW1SG">Cambridge Analytica and Facebook in the 2016 U.S. election</a> is reminiscent of the old debates about propaganda and its ability to “violate the minds of the masses,” according to <a href="https://ipfs.io/ipfs/QmXoypizjW3WknFiJnKLwHCnL72vedxjQkDDP1mXWo6uco/wiki/Sergei_Chakhotin.html">Sergei Tchakhotin,</a> an expert in the study of Nazi propaganda.</p>

<p>The Russian sociologist said that the masses were subjected to a sophisticated machinery of manipulation that could, through the strategic use of radio, film and well-orchestrated performances, touch on and influence the basic instincts of Germans.</p>

<p>Decades later, we’re once again back discussing the manipulation of emotions, this time via social media platforms. </p>

<figure class="align-right ">
<img alt="" src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/215973/original/file-20180423-94115-qux4ip.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=237&amp;fit=clip">
<figcaption>
<span class="caption">Nazi propaganda minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels is seen in this October 1938 photo as he speaks to members of the Nazi party.</span>
<span class="attribution"><span class="source">(AP Photo)</span></span>
</figcaption>
</figure>

<p>Of course, the communication ecosystem is very different from what existed for Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. But the underlying principles for manipulating the masses do not seem to have changed much. </p>

<p>Reports indicate that <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/cambridge-analytica-and-the-perils-of-psychographics">Cambridge Analytica</a> developed a methodology that allowed them to establish psychographic profiles of Facebook users, and thus push emotional buttons that could influence their political preferences and voting behaviour. </p>

<p>To some degree, this represents the return of what’s known as the <a href="https://www.utwente.nl/en/bms/communication-theories/sorted-by-cluster/Mass%20Media/Hypodermic_Needle_Theory/">hypodermic effect</a> in which the audience falls “victim” to powerful media that have the ability to manipulate our emotions and shape our understanding of the world.</p>

<hr>
<p>
<em>
<strong>
Read more:
<a href="http://theconversation.com/why-we-should-all-cut-the-facebook-cord-or-should-we-93929">Why we should all cut the Facebook cord. Or should we?</a>
</strong>
</em>
</p>
<hr>


<p>Research, however, indicates that how we respond to <a href="https://www.britannica.com/topic/two-step-flow-model-of-communication#ref1199152">media does not adhere to what’s known as a stimulus-response causality</a>. There are other factors that intervene in the way people use, perceive and process what they consume in the media. They are known as “mediations” that, according to the Spanish-Colombian professor Jesús Martín Barbero, are the <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1742766506069579">different ways people interpret the messages conveyed by the media</a>.</p>

<h2>Using our data to influence us</h2>

<p>But today, governments, corporations and political parties have the unprecedented ability to process a litany of data and then, through sophisticated algorithms, broadcast messages and images to influence an increasingly segmented audience. </p>

<p>One must ask, then, what role will Martín Barbero’s mediations — our cultural references, values, family, friends and other reference groups that influence our reading of the mediated messages — play in how we consume information and entertainment on social networks? </p>

<p>Are we condemned to live the “dystopian realism” presented by the British TV series <em>Black Mirror</em> in which <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/dec/01/charlie-brooker-dark-side-gadget-addiction-black-mirror">digital media penetrate the intimacy of a human being too clumsy to resist the temptation of being manipulated</a>, according to the show’s creator Charlie Brooker?</p>

<hr>
<p>
<em>
<strong>
Read more:
<a href="http://theconversation.com/god-is-an-algorithm-why-were-closer-to-a-black-mirror-style-reality-than-we-think-90669">God is an algorithm: why we're closer to a Black Mirror-style reality than we think</a>
</strong>
</em>
</p>
<hr>


<p>The debate about the influence of Facebook and unscrupulous companies like Cambridge Analytica reveals the importance of emotions not only in our private lives but also in our so-called “public lives” as citizens. The problem arises in terms not only of “emotional manipulation” but of the role emotions play in how we relate and understand the world around us.</p>

<p>As the <a href="https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/03/27/ciencia/1522150428_248366.html">neuroscientist Antonio Damasio recently said</a>: </p>

<blockquote>
<p>“Culture works by a system of selection similar to that of genetic selection, except that what is being selected is an instrument that we put into practice. Feelings are an agent in cultural selection. I think that the beauty of the idea is in seeing feelings as motivators, as a surveillance system, and as negotiators.”</p>
</blockquote>

<p>If feelings are an integral part of this “cultural selection,” are we facing a shift in this sociocultural evolutionary process due to the “algorithmization” of emotions? </p>

<p>Is historian Yuval Noah Harari right when he says that “technological religion” — <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/50bb4830-6a4c-11e6-ae5b-a7cc5dd5a28c">he calls it “dataism”</a> — is transforming us in such a way that it will make the homo sapiens irrelevant and put the human being on the periphery in a world dominated by algorithms?</p>

<h2>More isolation ahead?</h2>

<p>These are complex questions that are difficult to answer. </p>

<p>In any case, it seems that our intellectual or even emotional laziness is transforming us into puppets of our emotions. Evidence is emerging that digital media is changing the configuration of our nervous system and our forms of socialization. </p>

<p>Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, observes in her book <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/jan/30/alone-together-sherry-turkle-review"><em>Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other</em></a> that there are already signs of dissatisfaction among young people who are obsessed with their image on social media while losing the ability of introspection; mothers who feel that communication with their children via text messages is more frequent but less substantive; and Facebook users who think that the banalities they share with their “virtual friends” devalue the true intimacy between friends. </p>

<p>If virtual relations replace face-to-face contact, we may see more isolation, individualism and less social cohesion, which does not bode well for the survival of democracy. </p>

<p>It’s also likely that the expansion of social media does not make us more rational. Although we have access to more information and participate in more public debates about issues that affect us as individuals and as a society, that doesn’t mean we’re doing so more rationally or based on arguments that are scientifically factual.</p>

<p>The rise of religious fundamentalism, nationalism, of beliefs in all kinds of sects and New Age fashions are symptoms of a “return of sorcerers” or magical thinking in our digital society. </p>

<p>We deploy our egos on social media, sometimes with a compulsive need for recognition. This knowledge of our self, quantified in big data and transformed into affective algorithms, is exploited by corporations and political parties to give us, as <a href="https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/fifteen-minutes-of-fame.html">Andy Warhol said, our 15 minutes of fame</a>. </p>

<p>The sorcerers of propaganda are back — this time with more powerful means that their predecessors.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/94966/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p>

<p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/isaac-nahon-serfaty-460879">Isaac Nahon-Serfaty</a>, Associate Professor, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-ottawa-1165">University of Ottawa</a></em></span></p>

<p>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-hypodermic-effect-how-propaganda-manipulates-our-emotions-94966">original article</a>.</p>

In Venezuela, to do research is to fight for civilization

By: Isaac Nahon-Serfaty
Subjects: Education

<h1>In Venezuela, to do research is to fight for civilization</h1>


<span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/isaac-nahon-serfaty-460879">Isaac Nahon-Serfaty</a>, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-ottawa-1165">University of Ottawa</a></em></span>

<p>As <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-05-17/venezuela-s-empty-election">Venezuela’s flawed election</a> on May 20 approaches, the country is dealing with one of the worst economic depressions in Latin American history. <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/thenational/national-today-newsletter-diana-harry-egypt-babies-maduro-1.4661694">Venzuelans face dire shortages of food and medical supplies</a>, with most people struggling to access enough to eat.</p>

<p>Universities have also been under assault, ever since the so-called “Bolivarian revolution,” led by late President Hugo Chávez, declared war against universities, scholars and students. </p>

<p>After gaining power in 1998, Chávez created a parallel university system. Meanwhile, he reduced funding to the traditional autonomous universities of Venezuela, eliminated their ability to elect authorities, attacked academic freedom and persecuted professors and students.</p>

<p>Chávez’s new institutions — such as the Bolivarian University of Venezuela and the Polytechnic Experimental University of the Armed Forces — are mainly organizations for political indoctrination and social control. </p>

<p>The situation has <a href="http://www.uladdhh.org.ve/index.php/author/maydah/">further deteriorated under President Nicolás Maduro’s tenure</a>. University professors are migrating to other Latin American countries, Europe, the United States and Canada. Many students cannot complete their programs due to social and economic difficulties. </p>

<p>Some disciplines are literally emptied. Laboratories do not have updated equipment. Libraries cannot keep their collections of books and scientific journals up to date. Campus infrastructure is deteriorating due to lack of budget for maintenance. </p>

<p>But despite the terrible crisis, in <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-25/imf-sees-venezuela-inflation-soaring-to-13-000-percent-in-2018">a country that suffers a hyperinflation projected to reach 13,000 per cent this year</a>, autonomous public and private universities are struggling to keep their programs, to do research with very limited resources and to protect institutions that are fundamental for freedom and democracy. </p>

<p>They are doing this in a context of violent repression of protests, out-of-control crime, shortages of food and medicines and predatory corruption at all levels of the state.</p>

<h2>Student resistance</h2>

<p>The student movement has been an important factor of resistance since the beginning of Chávez’s regime. Students played a key role in the defeat suffered by Chávez in the <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/constitutional-referendum-venezuela">constitutional reform referendum of 2007</a>. </p>

<p>In 2014, the students took the streets in protests throughout the country, and they did it again in 2017. </p>

 

<p><a href="https://www.derechos.org.ve/actualidad/coalicion-de-catedras-y-centros-universitarios-de-ddhh-el-pensamiento-bajo-amenaza-en-las-universidades-venezolanas">Last year, the repression notably increased, resulting in hundreds of injuries</a>. At least 20 students were killed by police or military forces.</p>

<p>Some data can help put into perspective the scope and depth of the damage that the “Chavismo” movement (based on the ideology of Chávez) has caused to higher education. With the creation of the universities under government control, oriented to ideological indoctrination, the number of college students increased notably in Venezuela: From about 100,000 students in 2000 to about 250,000 in 2015. </p>

<p>However, the <a href="http://www.ricyt.org/index.php?option=com_content&amp;view=article&amp;id=150&amp;Itemid=20">number of students graduating remained relatively low, at about 10,000 per year</a>. </p>

<p>There are two ways to interpret these numbers. The first is that the supposed university “massification” under Chavismo has not allowed young people to complete their degrees. </p>

<p>The second is that <a href="https://www.derechos.org.ve/web/wp-content/uploads/Informe-LA-y-AU-FIN.pdf">the programs offered in the universities created by the regime do not maintain an adequate level of quality</a>.</p>

<h2>Campus invasions and assassinations</h2>

<p>The salary of a full-time professor in an autonomous university in Venezuela varies between US$5 and US$20 per month, depending on the exchange rate used to make the calculation. </p>

<p>It is obvious that this meagre income, in a country with hyperinflation and undergoing a deep recession, results in a massive brain drain. </p>

<p>Venezuela is running out of university professors. Some universities have lost half of their scholars, according to the <a href="http://aulaabiertavenezuela.org/">non-governmental organization Aula Abierta</a>. </p>

<p>Students are also leaving universities and even the country. Aula Abierta has also reported that, in 2017, between 30 and 40 per cent of those who entered undergraduate programs in autonomous universities had left their studies.</p>

 

<p>All this occurs in a context of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA6i8t8OR6c">repressive violence by police, military and paramilitary forces of the Maduro regime</a>. Professors and students have been arbitrarily detained. Many of them have been illegally subjected to trials before military courts. </p>

<p><a href="http://www.elmundo.es/internacional/2017/06/23/594c448de2704e7d438b45be.html">Regime forces</a> and their <a href="https://www.infobae.com/america/venezuela/2017/06/15/colectivos-chavistas-asesinaron-en-tachira-a-un-joven-de-19-anos-de-un-disparo-en-la-cara/">paramilitary groups</a> have assassinated students. Police, the National Guard and criminal organizations linked to the revolution have invaded campuses and damaged university facilities.</p>

<h2>Defending civilization against barbarism</h2>

<p>But the Venezuelan autonomous and private universities are resisting. </p>

<p>They know that they are not only protecting knowledge, but also freedom — a fundamental value to ensure access to truth, in times of “fake news,” ideological obscurantism and moral decadence. </p>

<p>Venezuelan students excel in international competitions, as they did at the <a href="http://elestimulo.com/blog/estudiantes-venezolanos-ganan-por-cuarta-vez-el-modelo-de-naciones-unidas-de-harvard/">Model United Nations at the University of Harvard</a>. </p>

<p>Scholars continue to do fundamental research for the country, such as that carried out at the Institute of Tropical Medicine of the Central University of Venezuela, <a href="http://www.noticierodigital.com/2018/04/doctor-castro-se-robado-las-pocetas-del-instituto-medicina-tropical/">despite the vandalism it is constantly subjected to</a>. </p>

<p>The Venezuelan diaspora has mobilized around the world to raise funds to help universities, <a href="https://alumnusb.org/">as alumni of the Simón Bolívar University</a> have done. </p>

<p>As the Venezuelan writer and teacher <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Romulo-Gallegos">Rómulo Gallegos</a> would have said: To defend academic freedom is to defend civilization against barbarism.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/96843/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p>

<p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/isaac-nahon-serfaty-460879">Isaac Nahon-Serfaty</a>, Associate Professor, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-ottawa-1165">University of Ottawa</a></em></span></p>

<p>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/in-venezuela-to-do-research-is-to-fight-for-civilization-96843">original article</a>.</p>

Why global environmentalists are silent on Venezuela’s mining crisis

By: Isaac Nahon-Serfaty
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability

<h1>Why global environmentalists are silent on Venezuela's mining crisis</h1>

<figure>
<img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/223912/original/file-20180619-126540-132cebq.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip" alt="File 20180619 126540 132cebq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1" />
<figcaption>
Aerial view of the Auyán Tepuy and the Caroni River in Venezuela.
<span class="attribution"><a class="source" href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Auyan_Tepuy.jpg">(Luis Ovalles/Wikimedia)</a>, <a class="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/">CC BY-SA</a></span>
</figcaption>
</figure>

<span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/isaac-nahon-serfaty-460879">Isaac Nahon-Serfaty</a>, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-ottawa-1165">University of Ottawa</a></em></span>

<p>Venezuela is on a path towards environmental devastation. </p>

<p>In 2016, President Nicolás Maduro opened a large swath of Venezuela to national and foreign mining companies. He was <a href="http://www.arcominerodelorinoco.com/videos/video_chavez3.mp4">following in the footsteps of his predecessor Hugo Chávez</a>, who first announced plans for the <a href="http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/economia/Ejecutivo-firmo-decreto-para-certificacion-del-Arc/">Orinoco Mining Belt</a>, or the <em>Arco Minero del Orinoco</em>. </p>

<p>Chávez was the “father” of the idea, but Maduro implemented it to offset the decline of oil revenue at the <a href="https://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL2N1T728R">national petroleum corporation PDVSA</a> due to alleged corruption and <a href="http://en.mercopress.com/2011/08/17/venezuela-biggest-oil-reserves-but-also-record-corruption-and-mismanagement">mismanagement</a>. </p>

<p>The vast area, some 112,000 square kilometres, covers 12 per cent of the Venezuelan territory. It crosses rich tropical forests, including the Sierra de Imataca in the east and the centrally located El Caura, as well as the Orinoco and Caroní river basins. </p>

<p>These are all fragile ecosystems, containing the sources of water and plant life that provide the mechanisms that regulate <a href="https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/12417">the environment and the generation of hydro-energy</a>. They could be seriously affected by such an extensive mining project that includes legally protected environmental preserves and Indigenous communities. </p>

<h2>Global partners in ecocide</h2>

<p>In the two years since the first mine broke ground, <a href="http://arcominerodelorinoco.com/capitulo-05/">200 hectares of forest were lost between December 2016 and April 2017</a>. </p>

<p>Deforestation and <a href="http://arcominerodelorinoco.com/capitulo-04/">pollution from the use of mercury</a> have spread to Canaima National Park, even though it’s a protected area by Venezuelan law. Both international corporations and the Venezuelan military — responsible by law to protect the area — are to blame for this environmental devastation, <a href="https://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/militarization-and-mining-dangerous-mix-venezuelan-amazon">according to experts in the area</a>.</p>

<p>So why aren’t any of the global environmental organizations speaking out about it?</p>

<p>As a <a href="http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/nahon-serfaty-what-canada-can-do-about-democracy-in-venezuela">Canadian-Venezuelan journalist and scholar</a>, I’ve been trying to answer this paradoxical riddle.</p>

<p>The Orinoco Mining Belt has large reserves of coltan (a mineral coveted by the electronics industry), bauxite, diamonds and gold. Roberto Mirabal, who leads the mining ministry, puts their value at <a href="http://www.noticiascandela.informe25.com/2016/08/tasan-en-2-trillones-potencial-del-arco.html">about US$2 trillion</a>. </p>

<h2>Military dirty business</h2>

<p>Under a scheme of strategic partnerships, the Venezuelan government <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLhKw7qjPeg">gave mining concessions</a> to a number of companies based in China, Russia, Canada, South Africa, the Republic of Congo and Australia in 2016. </p>

<p>To give legitimacy to the exploitation of mineral resources by the National Bolivarian Armed Forces (FANB), Maduro created CAMIMPEG, <a href="http://www.camimpeg.com/">Venezuela’s military-run oil and mining company</a>. </p>

<p>The FANB has allegedly been involved in diamond and <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-04-09/the-bloody-grab-for-gold-in-venezuela-s-most-dangerous-town">gold smuggling</a>, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-miners/venezuela-army-clashes-with-illegal-miners-18-reported-dead-idUSKBN1FV0XV">swindling artisanal miners</a> and working with guerrilla groups, including <a href="https://es.panampost.com/sabrina-martin/2018/05/10/venezuela-eln-mineria-asesinato-estado-bolivar/">Colombia’s National Liberation Army</a> and gangs, well before the creation of CAMIMPEG. </p>

<p>Foreign companies were <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/3c6180da-4c76-11e8-97e4-13afc22d86d4">pushed out and replaced by unregulated miners, backed by the military</a> in 2017, while the regime was trying to legitimize mining exploitation in the Arco Minero through partnerships with international corporations.</p>

<figure class="align-center ">
<img alt="" src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/223916/original/file-20180619-126534-uhe4yg.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip">
<figcaption>
<span class="caption">Members of a Venezuelan military agency put gold bars into an armoured vehicle to be taken to Venezuela’s Central Bank in March 2018.</span>
<span class="attribution"><span class="source">(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)</span></span>
</figcaption>
</figure>

<p>The Indigenous peoples living within the Orinoco Mining Belt have <a href="http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/venezuelas-mining-arc-boom-sweeps-indigenous-people-and-cultures">been the main victims of the military interventions in the mining regions</a>. In an extensive report, journalist Edgar López has documented the horrors associated with the exploration of the mining belt, calling it a destructive cocktail of “<a href="http://www.arcominerodelorinoco.com/capitulo-01/">crime, corruption and cyanide</a>.” </p>

<h2>Blind global greens</h2>

<p>Within Venezuela, people are speaking out against the mining activity. </p>

<p>Chávez’s former ministers and officers have tried to stop the mining there, but their <a href="https://elcooperante.com/tsj-declara-improcedente-recurso-para-anular-el-arco-minero-del-orinoco/">actions were dismissed by Venezuela’s highest court</a>. And several Venezuelan non-governmental organizations <a href="https://www.aporrea.org/pachamama/n305738.html">have also warned against the mining belt’s harmful impacts</a>, to no avail. </p>

<p>But little has been said about Venezuela’s mining activity at the international level. </p>

<p>Top environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have been silent. </p>

<p>As of June 2018, there was no mention of Venezuela on the <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/international/?s=Venezuela&amp;orderby=relevant">Greenpeace international website</a>, “Orinoco mining” on the WWF website (apart from an article about <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/orinoco-river-basin-report-card">sustainable fishing in Colombia</a>) or the <em>Arco Minero</em>.</p>

<p>Other organizations such as MiningWatch Canada have not released a public statement about the participation of Gold Reserve — a gold mining company headquartered in Washington state — in the <em>Arco</em>, beyond a recent <a href="https://twitter.com/MiningWatch/status/1007719168492425223">timid tweet</a> after being pressed to say something about the partnership between the Canadian mining corporation and the Venezuelan regime.</p>

<h2>Ideological complicity</h2>

<p>These global green activists are usually noisy — what might be behind their surprising silence? </p>

<p>Here are some possibilities: </p>

<p>First, despite having highly polluting industries such as oil and mining, Venezuela has been off the radar of the big environmental NGOs because it was once considered a middle-income country. A perceptual bias could be guiding the advocacy activities of such organizations, who have been very vocal in some cases (e.g. <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/16448/chevrons-slapp-suit-against-ecuadorians-corporate-intimidation/">Chevron in Ecuador</a>).</p>

<p>Second, Chávez’s “leftist revolution,” which favoured the poor, has granted Venezuela a benevolent image (<a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-tragedy-of-venezuela-1527177202">now widely denied</a>), exonerating it from suspicions of ecocide.</p>

<p>In a recent essay, Venezuelan professor <a href="https://www.cadal.org/libros/pdf/Las_ciencias_sociales_en_contextos_autoritarios.pdf">Gisela Kozak Rovero</a> suggests that these leftist ideals are also influencing academia: “The appropriation of leftist discourse … has allowed the Bolivarian revolution to build alliances with academics in different latitudes and the promotion of militancy disguised as research….” </p>

<p>The same could be said of some green progressives who have chosen ideological blindness instead of facing the truth about the ecological crime that is being committed in Venezuela.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/98043/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p>

<p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/isaac-nahon-serfaty-460879">Isaac Nahon-Serfaty</a>, Associate Professor, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-ottawa-1165">University of Ottawa</a></em></span></p>

<p>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-global-environmentalists-are-silent-on-venezuelas-mining-crisis-98043">original article</a>.</p>