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Date: Sat, 17 Oct 98 23:56:48 CDT
From: Mark Graffis <ab758@virgin.usvi.net>
Subject: Venezuelan Indians Defy Rainforest Slashing Power Line
Article: 45568
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.19075.19981018121551@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Venezuelan Indians Defy Rainforest Slashing Power Line

ENS, 16 November 1998

CUIDAD BOLIVAR—Indigenous residents of the Canaima National Park and the nearby region in southern Venezuela have resumed their protest against the 450-mile long power line being constructed into Brazil. According to Jose Luise Gonzalez, spokesperson from the Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State, the new protest comes a month after Venezuelan government officials unilaterally broke off talks with Indian leaders September 4.

Since the government pulled out of the talks, power line construction has been advancing, destroying large areas of rainforest and savanna as well as indigenous sacred sites and subsistence farms.

Starting Monday, 250 Pemon Indians partially blocked traffic along the road to Brazil. In particular, they would not allow construction crews working on the power line to pass the blockade.

To quell the protest, the Venezuelan National Guard has moved in 40 soldiers in riot gear and stationed a tank outside the village of Kumarakapay, also called San Francisco de Yuruani, a popular tourist destination.

Gonzalez said, The Pemon communities will continue to peacefully block construction crews here indefinitely until we receive a positive response from the government of Venezuela. The Pemon are demanding a resumption of talks on ancestral land claims and a halt to power line construction until land rights and environmental issues have been settled.

Indigenous protests against the power line began in July, continued in August and ended when the Venezuelan government stated its commitment to legally recognize the boundaries of indigenous areas.

Since late August, the entire power line route has been heavily militarized. The National Guard have been accompanying construction crews to suppress opposition.

On August 26, the National Guard attacked 300 members of the Mapauri village with tear gas and rubber bullets to break the blockade. Three Indians were hospitalized.

In addition to two lawsuits already before the Venezuelan courts, the Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State recently filed suit to challenge the bilateral agreement on the power line between the governments of Venezuela and Brazil. The Federation is preparing a request for a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.


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