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Date: Mon, 31 Aug 98 11:09:47 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Weekly Americas News Update #448, 8/30/98
Article: 42232
To: undisclosed-recipients:;;@chumbly.math.missouri.edu
Message-ID: <bulk.4254.19980901181519@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** reg.nicaragua: 44.0 **/
** Topic: Weekly News Update #448, 8/30/98 **
** Written 9:01 PM Aug 30, 1998 by wnu in cdp:reg.nicaragua **

National Guard Attacks Indigenous Protesters

Weekly News of the Americas,
Issue #448, 30 August 1998

On Aug. 26, the Venezuelan National Guard violently attacked residents of Mapauri, a 50-family Pemon indigenous community located inside the Canaima National Park in Bolivar state. Three people, including a 13-year old boy, were sent to the hospital with injuries from rubber bullets and tear gas. The National Guard remains in the area, and there are fears that more violence will occur.

Mapauri residents had been peacefully blocking construction crews from working on a 450-mile power line that would stretch from Venezuela to Brazil through indigenous land. [Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State (FIB)/Amazon Watch press release 8/26/98] The protests were part of a month-long mobilization that began July 27 with the blockading of the only highway between Venezuela and Brazil [see Update #445]. Since then between 500 and 1,200 members of the Akawaio, Arawako, Pemon, and Karina tribes have been camping at kilometer 16 of the highway, periodically blocking traffic, especially construction crews. The high-voltage electrical transmission line is part of the Venezuelan government's plan to open up the nine million-acre Imataca Forest Reserve to large-scale mining. Indigenous residents say the power line is in violation of international and Venezuelan law. [FIB/AW 8/26/98] First to receive the electricity will be the Las Cristinas gold mining complex, where Placer Dome and other North American mining companies are planning to build one of Latin America's largest gold mines. [Global Response urgent action, undated <http://www.globalresponse.org>]

The unexpected Aug. 26 attack by National Guard troops came just one day after the Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State (FIB) and the Venezuelan government reached a historic agreement in which the government committed to a formal process to recognize the property rights of more than 30,000 members of the four tribes over their ancestral lands in southern Venezuela. [FIB/AW 8/26/98; El Universal (Caracas) 8/26/98]

This incident puts in jeopardy the open process that had been established between our people and the Venezuelan government over the last few weeks, said FIB president Jose Luis Gonzalez. Since Aug. 13, indigenous leaders have been meeting regularly with a high level government delegation made up of the Interior, Border Affairs and Environment ministers, as well as Attorney General Juan Nepomuceno Garrido.

The agreement we reached yesterday was to establish a formal process to recognize indigenous lands, explained Gonzalez. We have not yet discussed or resolved the question of the power line passing through our communities. This question is planned for future discussions. We maintain our current position that all work on the power line be halted. [FIB/AW 8/26/98]

The National Guard said they had orders from the highest level to break up the indigenous roadblock, Gonzalez noted. During the attack, the National Guard troops also confiscated photographic film from tourists and indigenous people. [EU 8/28/98] Faxes protesting the attack against the indigenous community, supporting indigenous land rights and requesting protection of the Imataca forest can be sent to President Rafael Caldera (+582- 801-3644) with a copy to Senator Lucia Antillano, president of the Senate Environment Commission (+58-2-484-8134). [Global Response]

On Aug. 28, Venezuela's congress ratified Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which guarantees the participation of indigenous communities in decision-making on issues that affect them. FIB had pushed for ratification of the convention. [EU 8/29/98]