1,000 Venezuelan Indians Blockade Main Highway to Brazil Protest Marks 500 Years since the Arrival of Columbus to Venezuela --- note: Associated Press reporter and photographer on the scene ---

AMAZON WATCH

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Rania Batrice at +1.510.394.2041 or rania@amazonwatch.org


El Dorado, Venezuela - Just shortly after 1:30 PM (EST) today, nearly 1,000 Pemon Indians of the Imataca and Grand Savanna regions began a blockade of construction crews on the only highway between Venezuela and Brazil. They are protesting a high voltage electrical transmission line being built through their rainforest homeland in violation of international and Venezuelan law. Today's peaceful protest falls on the 500-year anniversary of the arrival of Columbus to Venezuela and is the third time in the past week that this major international route has been closed by indigenous protests.

The National Guard is on the scene and is allegedly blocking telephone communications from the region. Also today in Plaza Morelos, Caracas, a coalition of environmental organizations and university students march in solidarity with the indigenous peoples, shadowing the numerous ceremonies being held by the government to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of Venezuela.

On July 30 – after two days of shutting down the highway – the indigenous peoples agreed to suspend their blockades in response to an offer from the Venezuelan government to meet with indigenous leaders. The Indigenous Federation of the State of Bolivar now says that thus far the Venezuelan Government has shown little willingness to resolve the land conflict. There have been several meetings between the parties. However the representatives the Venezuelan Government has sent to the table have been without any real decision-making power. The Federation of Indigenous Peoples of the State of Bolivar (FIB) says, "the blockades will continue until the government agrees to a process to legally recognize indigenous lands."

The indigenous peoples are demanding that the Venezuelan government legally recognize and respect the boundaries of their ancestral lands. Specifically, the indigenous peoples are demanding that construction work on the power line be halted immediately and that the Supreme Court nullifies Decree 1850. This Decree, which was passed last April, opens up 40 percent of the 9 million-acre Imataca rainforest reserve to large-scale gold mining and logging. In addition to the protests, the Indigenous and environmental groups have filed two lawsuits, one challenging the Decree and the other, challenging the construction of the power line through 120 kilometers of indigenous territory.

The construction of the transmission line at this moment is destroying large areas of forests and lands indigenous peoples rely on for their livelihood. Altogether, the power line project is affecting over 15,000 people in 30 communities of Pemon, Karina, Akawaio, and Arawako Indians. The electrification of the region will opens up the fragile ecosystems of the Canaima National Park and the Imataca rainforest to large-scale mining, tourism, and logging. The first customer of the power is the Placer Dome gold mine at Las Cristinas. The planned electrical line extends approximately 700 kilometers from the Guri Dam in Venezuela to the City of Boa Vista, Brazil. Yesterday, the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) approved a $55 million financing package to the Brazilian Government for the construction costs.

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