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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Mon Sep 18 06:31:20 2000
Date: Sat, 16 Sep 2000 00:24:21 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: DEVELOPMENT-VENEZUELA: Indians Topple Powerlines Routed to Brazil
Article: 104839
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Indians Topple Powerlines Routed to Brazil

By José Zambrano, IPS, 14 September 2000

CARACAS, Sep 14 (IPS) - Indigenous Venezuelans have knocked down seven electrical towers in the last two days that are part of the 1,500-km powerline system intended to carry electricity from the Guri dam in southeast Venezuela to the state of Roraima, in northern Brazil.

The state-run company 'Electrificacion del Caroní' (EDELCA) discovered the damage and the government of Bolívar state, which covers 238,000 square km of the Venezuelan territory bordering Guyana, announced it would use police force to prevent the indigenous Pemon peoples from taking down more towers.

EDELCA reported that this is the fourth time it has detected the indigenous community's sabotage against the powerlines, which serve as a model project for the physical integration of Brazil and Venezuela. H‚ctor Herrera, of the Bolívar government, offered the services of the state's police so these crimes are not repeated.

The Indians acted in secret this time, following an August statement by President Hugo Chavez, who has promoted Venezuelan indigenous rights in several forums, warning that the Pemon peoples were undoubtedly being subjected to manipulation by outside interests.

In the last few years, the Indigenous Federation of Bolívar State, which encompasses the Pemon communities and other native groups, has protested the construction of the electrical line system, fearing it will lead to new and unruly mining settlements, tourism and urbanisation in their ancestral lands.

We insist on stating our concern about the socio-cultural impact of the powerlines, declared Nicolas Betis, a Federation leader, who demanded a clear explanation of the type of development to be associated with the project before he will grant his consent.

According to the Venezuelan Constitution the electorate approved at the ballot box in December 1999, the nation's indigenous peoples must be consulted prior to initiating public works projects in the lands where they have traditionally lived, and that the proposed works must take environmental impact into account.

President Chavez has expressed frustration with the delays indigenous opposition has caused the powerline construction, a project that has the blessing of Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The delays also endanger investment in the electrical system.

The 400-million-dollar project means the sale of electricity from the Guri dam (on the River Caroní, with a 12,00 megawatt capacity) to the Roraima region, as well as to the communities along the path of the electrical lines.

Some 200 megawatts per hour are to reach Boa Vista, Roraima's capital, once construction is complete.

The project, begun in 1997, was slated for completion in December 1998. The powerlines on the Brazilian side, some 150 km, are in place, but on the Venezuelan side, where the path is nine times longer, there are still more than 100 km to cover - and the destruction of the towers is further slowing progress.

The delays in completion are costing Venezuela thousands of dollars per day, explaining Chavez's annoyance. In March, when the indigenous peoples of the region refused to sign a declaration of brotherhood that would have given the electrical project the green light, the president said he was disappointed.

According to the EDELCA report, the Pemon vandals loosened the bolts that secured the bases of the seven towers, located some 150 km from the Brazilian border. The structures, thus weakened, toppled later from the force of winds and rain.

The authorities point out that a large portion of the powerlines follows a previously existing paved road, which minimises the added environmental or aesthetic impact of the electrical project on the area. The lines also reinforce other already established systems in order to supply four villages in the nation's southeast with electricity.

But members of the Pemon community of San Rafael de Camoiran, Santa María de Mapaurí, Vista Alegre and San Juan de Camoiran have added demands for the government to delineate indigenous territories, say sources from this region, located 700 to 800 km southeast of Caracas.

As evidence of their radicalisation, indigenous groups from these communities have thrown stones at EDELCA helicopters and other vehicles, and even prevented the filming in the area of a popular soap opera, which stars former beauty queen Ruddy Rodríguez.