Lake Maracaibo – Venezuela’s most valuable resource

Floating Home

Floating Home

Lake Maracaibo on the Water’s Edge

Peaceful, completely peaceful. These homes are called a palafitos. Traffic here is only by tribal members in canoes around and between the buildings in this casual collection of community. Indigenous people have been living like this for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years on this lake – Lake Maracaibo is the largest natural lake in South America and is 20 million years old.

In 1499, when the Italian explorer, Americo Vespucci first saw the indigenous people’s houses on stilts, tradition says he named the place “Venezuela,” as the diminutive of “Venice.” To see a palafito might have looked like in the 1500’s, come up close to this photo below – a palafito floating in a rainforest.

Palafito hut on polesImagine a collection of these homes, with many families living close together, a floating apartment building.

Palafito residents of Lake Maracaibo insist this is the only way they want to live. The Venezuelan government might shrug – those people can live there, or they can move to town, no matter. But these villagers are holding out for their way of life, like images of an old house, surrounded and shadowed by highrise neighborhoods.

Compare palafitos to a similar concept in Burma, where Inle Lake residents live in a stilt community. On Inle Lake, residents grow their vegetables in hydroponic farms, and fish in the lake’s waters.

Inle Lake hydroponic tomatoes

Inle Lake hydroponic tomatoes

Quality of life comes from quality of water. Living on the water is not about right or wrong; it’s a matter of choice and tradition …and change.

For Lake Maracaibo, the community isn’t threatened by another tribe; it’s pollution doing the damage. The lake experiences the natural movement of the water, but oil is heavy, there is no getting away from it – Maracaibo is a lake of oil, not a lake of people. Palafitos stay on as a reminder that people remain – tugging at their human memory.

The estimate is there is an unlimited supply of oil under the water – this may be good for the temporary wealth of Venezuela, but not of benefit to citizens of the lake. This has been called “economic and environmental racism.”

Even with all the world’s industrialization and technological development, no one has discovered how to take out oil without leaving ugly scars. So far, oil cannot be extracted without spilling – this is dirty work.

NASA photo off oil slicks of Maracaibo City

NASA photo off oil slicks of Maracaibo City

Drilling accidents and industrial waste began in 1914, with rubbish, derelict pipes, and machinery parts on the lake bed. In 1928, a fire was ignited when spilled oil met up with a villager’s wood stove. It was a conflagration, destroying 80% of Lagunillas, an oil workers town near Maracaibo. The British and American oil companies didn’t publish the death count.

All large cities – Maracaibo’s greater city population of 2.5 million – have pollution issues, but Maracaibo has this huge deep hole where everything can be dumped …and covered up by water.

The lake is connected to the sea by a 6-kilometer-wide strait, which was dredged for ocean-going oil transports. These ships dump their ballast and waste in the lake. Underwater oil pipes and platforms leak; cities along lake-shore pump untreated municipal and industrial waste into the lake; farmlands along the shore drain off chemicals.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told Reuters News, “Lake Maracaibo is ‘cronic‘, with abandoned machinery and thousands of miles of perforated pipelines snaked like spaghetti.” But still, Lake Maracaibo often looks blue and beautiful, from a distance.

The up close question, when will Venezuela develop ongoing remediation of Lake Maracaibo, and recognize the Lake as its primary natural resource. The answer begins by developing a larger picture of Venezuela, what they value, how they trade with others. 

Where in the world did trade organizations begin – Did the concept of Colonialism begin with European countries taking on possessions, parts of other countries, or entire countries. Not to mention the lands of the New World, in 1494, France claimed Naples; in 1579, Netherlands became part of Spain; and Napoleon has been said by many, to be the father of the EU. That was fast. But economy-building is complicated, never smooth.

Mercosur – Common Market of South America

In Latin America, there is Mercosur, a trade organization patterned after the European Union. Member countries are Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia (newest member), Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay, (the latter’s membership suspended until August 15, 2013). This action on Paraguay was due to a very shaky Presidency – the new Pres. Horacio Cartes is set to take office Aug. 15,  marking more than a year without an elected president in Paraguay. Other South American countries are associate members (including Ecuador and  Chile).

To Stop fighting and focus on trade – At a recent summit, Mercosur voted for Venezuelan President Nicoles Maduro to head of this trade organization, while Paraguay argues they should lead. With such turmoil on group leadership, arriving at the primary topic of trade may take some time.


Opinion from member, Brazil – Negotiations are stuck in a “deep pothole,” with the bloc lacking consensus – Venezuela and Argentina are “deeply opposed to any free trade agreement with anybody.” http:/ The above article shows the details from the perspective of Brazil. It calls Argentina “über-protectionist” but that Brasilia and Buenos Aires have a two century history of strategic competition, “including a fledgling nuclear arms race in 1970-80.”

But “Brazil today will not put at risk this foundation of its neighborhood stability, by pushing Argentina too hard, nor by prospecting a bilateral FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with Europe, which could implode Mercosur.”

On July 12, Bloomberg News reported that Mercosur Trade Bloc summoned  EU ambassadors of France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, after Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales’s plane was diverted on his way home from Russia.

Mercosur stands up for cyber security and privacy protection –  Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff used this opportunity to highlight the importance of  “…the joint action of Mercosur countries on cyber security and taking a ‘firm position’ in the United Nations to define rules for the protection of privacy.”

Brazilian newspaper O Globo  “… this week reported the NSA spied on security-related issues throughout the region, as well as what it called ‘commercial secrets’ related to oil in Venezuela and energy in Mexico.” Mercosur may have its squabbles, but they also stick together.

Venezuela had requested membership in Mercosur in 2006, but was put on hold until July 2012, waiting for the country to become more democratic. In December, Venezuela agreed to contribute to the Structural Convergence Fund, to help development projects in poorer countries and compensate for financial imbalances among its members, like Venezuela supplying Uruguay with energy. Now the country’s new President Nicolas Maduro will lead the Mercosur Trade Bloc – big changes coming for Venezuela.

Not to be a one-product country – Venezuela can cultivate balance in developing their natural resources, along with trade agreements within their region. Success will come with concentration on regional issues. Protect as well as develop manufacturing at home, and sell goods regionally.  Create new technologies for efficient production and markets. It’s not wise to sell raw materials directly to foreigns, so they can develop the products, and generate big profits.

Don’t just export, build from within – Venezuela exports petrochemicals, iron ore, and aluminum, but look for technological developments. Note: a super absorbent fabric that will soak up oil better than all other products of their kind.  In this application for use in oil spills, the nanosheets of boron nitrate will absorb 33 times its own weight, and will also absorb chemical solvents and dyes. Manufacture of a product like this seems a natural for Venezuela.

Barrier used to absorb oil on the Guarapichi River

Barrier used to absorb oil on the Guarapichi River

The photo to the right shows a ruptured oil pipe line in 2012, on the Guarapichi River. The village of Jusepin depends on the river for their drinking water.

Develop new industries in petrochemicals, ammonia, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene, lubricants, adhesives, agrochemicals (fertilizers are made by State-owned Pequiven), packaging, paint, and pharmaceutical products.

Currently, State-owned petroleum PDVSA produces about 90 percent of Venezuela’s export income and about half of all government revenue. According to U.S. Energy Department figures,Venezuelan oil output has remained flat for the past three years. “Oil industry analysts [analysts from non-Mercosur countries] blame a production drop on the company’s failure to invest in new exploration while it funded popular social programs,” claims Fox News. But no country is limited to exploration in oil only.

Diego Gonzalez, a former PDVSA oil exploration engineer says his previous company,  “…doesn’t seem to be producing new deposits,” and “There are no new refineries or petrochemical plants,” Mr. Gonzales left Venezuela in 2001.

Counter to this, Venezuela has obtained loans for updating their petroleum industry infrastructure.

Big oil discovery in Australia, 2013 – Venezuela has confidence in petroleum. But now with the future glut of world oil, the value and cost of oil will go down – note the potential of massive reserves currently discovered in Australia. It is time to concentrate on developing industries that produce goods for export… so they do not remain primarily a one-product country.

Venezuela’s real advantage –  Venezuela’s power comes from hydroelectric plants on the Caroni River and the Orinoco.

Water: More Precious Than Oil

Nearly half of the world’s water is used in extracting energy resources and producing electricity.

“While membrane osmosis technologies exist to convert sea water into fresh, they use ten times more energy than current treatment processes,” says this February 2013 article. Fortunately, Venezuela has the energy for water remediation projects. In many countries, China for example, “up to 90% of their fresh water is already polluted.” Investment in fresh water infrastructure is going to be a great recurring long-term investment theme worldwide.

Venezuela has natural resources every country longs for – With the development of a dedicated technology avenue for water purification, Venezuela could be a shining light in the Mercosur Bloc and in the entire world. Brazil is often shown as an example of a country with an emphasis on advancing technology, but Venezuela has a more dramatic potential. Venezuela doesn’t need biofuels for energy. It has the natural resources every other country longs for; it has what other countries need to buy to make up the deficiency. Venezuela doesn’t have those problems.

Venezuela’s future technology – Lightening has been measured, but as we know now, lightening has not been collected. Some say a Tesla Coil or a Van de Graaff generator can do this…some say…but most lightening is unpredictable and not consistent.

Catatumbo Lightening – Note another Venezuelan natural resource. At Lake Maracaibo, this time at the southern tip, there is a national park set up for viewing Relampago de Catatumbo or Catatumbo Lightening. Catatumbo, most surely comes from “catacomb” as a superstitiously frightening place. This phenomenon appears 300 days of the year and there is no – repeat, “no” – thunder.

Catatumbo lightening behind a palafito on Lake Maracaibo

Catatumbo lightening behind a palafito on Lake Maracaibo

Some suggest that the interaction of cold winds descending from the freezing northernmost highlands of the Andes mountain range, clash with the hot, humid air evaporating from the lake, producing the ionization of air particles responsible for the lightning.

Most emerging technology takes 50 to 80 years or longer before it arrives to benefit individuals, and life on the Planet. Often, a government uses it first before it is popularized. It may be that inventors, scientists, perhaps even bureaucrats do know how to use the energy from lightening. Until we are all in on the secret, we will have to be satisfied with 300 days a year of wonder on Lake Maracaibo.


article by Charlotte Wilson, Editor and Publisher of Worldview Opinion.

Of the countries mentioned in this article, Ms. Wilson has traveled to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay, and much of Central America, as well as Burma, visiting the Asian versions of palafitos, up close.

Inle Monastery of the Jumping Cats, Burma

Inle Monastery of the Jumping Cats, Burma