Venezuela and Brazil launch power project

By Adam Easton, BBC News, Monday 13 August 2001, 08:04 GMT 09:04 UK

Caracas—The leaders of Brazil and Venezuela, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Hugo Chavez, are due to inaugurate a high-voltage power line between the two countries on Monday which will supply electricity from Venezuela to energy-starved northern Brazil.

The project, which is two years behind schedule, involves a 680 kilometre line which runs from Venezuela's remote southern state of Bolivar to Boa Vista in northern Brazil.

Not only will it provide cheap hydro-electric power to Brazil, currently experiencing a severe energy crisis, but will also earn Venezuela tens of millions of dollars every year.

Local hostility

But the fact that the line's pylons and concrete posts pass through one of Venezuela's most environmentally fragile areas, an indigenous reserve, has made the project highly controversial.

Indigenous leaders say the government acted illegally when it not only failed to consult them about the $400m project's environmental and social impact but subjected opponents to physical threats and violence.

In response, local Pemon Indians pulled down some of the pylons, halting construction last year.

The line is also an eyesore as it crosses the vast plains of Venezuela's Gran Sabana, which is broken up by enormous table-top mountains, home to numerous unique plant and animal species, and the inspiration for the Arthur Conan Doyle story The Lost World.

The area is also rich in gold, and locals fear the new energy source will encourage even more illegal miners, many of whom come from Brazil.

Recently the government has worked hard to gain acceptance for the project, but for many the line has caused irreparable damage to one of the world's most unique and fragile environments.