Day 2 - Indigenous Peoples Blockade International Highway In Protest of Guri Electrical Line

AMAZON WATCH

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Paul Paz y Miño, 510-281-9020 x302 or paz@amazonwatch.org


El Dorado, Venezuela - The Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State reported that since 6:00 am, Monday morning, July 27, more than 800 members of the indigenous communities of Imataca rainforest and the Grand Savanna have been blockading the International road that connects southern Venezuela to Brazil. The protest is taking place at kilometer 16 of the El Dorado-Santa Elena highway is expected to continue throughout the day today.

With this action, members of the Kariña, Arawako, Akawaio, and Pemon tribes of the Imataca rainforest and the Gran Savanna are once again reiterating their strong opposition to the Southern Electrical Lines Project. The planned electrical lines would extend 700 kilometers from the Guri Dam in Venezuela to the City of Boa Vista, Brazil. The construction of the transmission line at this moment is destroying large areas of forests and the principal forms of subsistence for the communities, namely their crops and forest gardens.

The indigenous peoples are demanding that construction works on the power lines be immediately halted until the Venezuelan Government legally recognizes the rights of the indigenous peoples over their ancestral lands.

The power project will worsen the situation facing indigenous communities of the Imataca Forest Reserve, who lack legal titles to their lands. Without the recognition of their ancestral land rights, the indigenous people cannot defend their lands or their way of life. The power line project will accelerate the destruction of the region's rainforest by enabling large-scale logging and mining operations in the Imataca Forest Reserve.

The Imataca Forest Reserve encompasses 3.6 million hectares of diverse tropical forest (an area the size of Holland) and is home to an indigenous population of 10,000. It is also considered one of the ten most biologically rich forests in the world. In May of 1997, the Venezuelan Government signed Decree 1850, which opens up 40% of this Forest Reserve to industrial mining and logging concessions. Already plans are underway to construct Placer Dome's Las Cristinas Gold Mine inside the Reserve. Las Cristinas will be among South America's largest gold mines. Both the decree and the electrical line project have been implemented without proper consultation with impacted communities.

The indigenous peoples of the region say they will keep the highway closed until they receive a positive response from the government to their demands for land rights. The protestors have asked the Public Prosecutor "Fiscalia del Ministerio Publico de Venezuela", to act as a mediator for the situation. The Government delegation is expected to meet with the protesters around 3:00 p.m. today.

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