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Venezuela: Fire Consumes Part of Canaima National Park

For a week, one of the world's most precious green lungs has been burning. The Canaima National Park in Venezuela's southern Bolivar State, has been blazing out of control.

A combination of drought, wind and a lack of personnel have made the task of extinguishing the flames virtually impossible, and over 1,200 hectares of the sixth largest national park in the world have been consumed.

Although the fire in Canaima, a world heritage site, has been raging for over a week [es], netizens had not spoken of the event until today, after it emerged that the fire had reached the tepuy [es], or tabletop mountain, where the Angel Falls are located.

It is not only the environment which is being affected by the fire. The area's indigenous community have spent a week engulfed by smoke and are calling for help from the government, with the respiratory tracts of the oldest and youngest suffering the consequences.

Many Twitter users have lamented the events, but not without calling out the indolence of the Venezuelan state and that of Venezuelan politicians in general.

Photo by pilot Raul Arias, shared widely across social media.

Photo by pilot Raul Arias, shared widely across social media.

Luis Alfredo Osorio (‏@LuisOsorio_22) [es] points out that neither of the presidential candidates, Nicolas Maduro and Henrique Capriles Radonski, have mentioned the ecological tragedy:

 ‏@LuisOsorio_22: Se nos está quemando Canaima y los políticos bien gracias @hcapriles  @NicolasMaduro

‏@LuisOsorio_22: Canaima is burning, thanks a lot, politicians @hcapriles @NicolasMaduro

Elsewhere, Alexa Garcia B (@AlexaBrit) [es] shows a similar discontent with the behaviour of the authorities. She is in no doubt that this lack of concern is due to the electoral campaign:

@AlexaBrit: Que lamentable lo que está ocurriendo en parte de Canaima y el Auyantepuy… Y el gobierno? en campaña, las autoridades? en campaña.

@AlexaBrit: Such a shame what is happening in parts of Canaima and Auyantepuy… And the government? Out campaigning. The authorities? Out campaigning.

The coordinator of the national parks institute (Inparques) in the western sector of Canaima, also secretary of the indigenous authority, Josval Simon, said to El Universal [es] newspaper that Sunday went by without any effort to extinguish the flames, as the helicopter equipped with the Bambi Bucket system, belonging to REDI, the Integral Defence Region of Guayana, was withdrawn on Sunday. He then decried the fact that the airship from publicly-owned enterprise Corpoelec, which had been lending assistance, left on Saturday afternoon, having used up its authorized flight hours.

In light of this statement, Twitter user ‏@enigmasPRESS [es] criticises the purchase of arms and defence equipment by the State, which does not have sufficient resources to extinguish the fire in Canaima:

@enigmasPRESS: ¡Patria Querida! Llegaron 100 carros antimotines. Llegaron misiles. Incendio Canaima 1 semana sin apoyo aéreo.  http://goo.gl/3YTc4

@enigmasPRESS: Dear Country, 100 anti-riot vehicles have arrived. Missiles have been shipped in. Canaima has burned for a week without aerial support. http://goo.gl/3YTc4

Photograph by Pilot Raul Arias

Photograph by pilot Raul Arias, widely shared across social networks.

Unsurprisingly, the incident did not escape the country's political polarisation, and Twitter users spoke from their own political positions.

Emanuel Bermudez ‏(@emax4) [es] was certain that the opposition would blame the current interim President, Nicolás Maduro, for the fire in the country's southern region:

@emax4: ‏Incendio en Canaima y la culpa es de Chávez pues… Perdón de Maduro….. :S Tontos!

@emax4: Fire in Canaima and Chavez… sorry, Maduro….. is to blame….. :S Idiots!

On the other hand, Javier J. Ugas (‏@JJ_ugas) [es] believes that Nicolás Maduro will try to evade his responsibility pointing instead to the United States:

@JJ_ugas: Mas de 1.200 hectáreas de Canaima afectadas por incendio incluido el Auyantepuy donde está el salto Angel. Ya Maduro dirá q es culpa de EEUU!

@JJ_ugas: More than 1.200 hectares of Canaima affected by the fire, including El Auyantepuy where the Angel Falls are located. Maduro will say it's the US’ fault!

But the consequences run far beyond the political. The devastation wrought by the flames could take up to a hundred years to heal. At least this is what biologist Rodolfo Castillo, executive director and president of the organisation Bioparques, stated to the Correo del Caroní [es] newspaper. In his words:

Los suelos de esta zona son pobres, la vegetación tiene poco alimento y al quemarse son vulnerables a las próximas lluvias, al viento, por lo que su recuperación, en las mejores condiciones, podría tardar entre 50 y 100 años”.

The soil in this area is very poor, with limited nutrients available for the vegetation, and now, having been burnt, they are vulnerable to the coming rains, to the wind, all of which means that recovery, under the best circumstances, could take between 50 to 100 years.

For Twitter user Jose Rafael Camejo (@joserafael) [es] , however, the incident will not have a large impact, and he criticises those who question the authorities’ handling of the fire:

@joserafael: Hay opositores que se comportan como Maduro: bruuuutos. Un incendio en Canaima es imposible controlar. Además después llueve y crece todo.

@joserafael: There are members of the opposition who are acting like Maduro: stupidly. It's impossible to control a fire in Canaima. Plus, soon it will rain and everything will grow again.

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