Fourth Day: 800 Venezuela Indians Continue Occupation of Highway Indigenous Leaders Hold Press Conference in Caracas on August 7 --- note: Associated Press reporter and photographer in the region---


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El Dorado, Venezuela - For the fourth time in the past week, Over 800 Indigenous people of the Imataca and Grand Savanna regions are gathered at kilometer 16 of the only highway between Venezuela and Brazil protesting a high voltage electrical transmission line being built through their rainforest homeland. After completely closing down the highway for two days, yesterday the Indigenous protestors started to only blockade the construction crews associated with the power line project.

The Indigenous peoples say they plan to continue the mass mobilization and blockades indefinitely. A delegation of Indigenous leaders from the region will be travelling to Caracas to hold a press conference at the Salon Parlamento Latin Americano at 10:30 AM on Friday August 7, 1998.

Nearly 50 members of the Venezuelan National Guards are on the scene today and have been periodically blocking telephone communications from the region. Also yesterday in Plaza Morelos, Caracas, a coalition of environmental organizations and university students marched in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples, shadowing the numerous ceremonies being held by the government to commemorate the 500-year anniversary of Venezuela.

The blockades began on July 27. After two days of shutting down the highway, the Indigenous peoples agreed to suspend their protests in response to an offer from the Venezuelan government to meet. 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 Indigenous Federation of the State of Bolivar now says that thus far the Venezuelan Government has shown little willingness to resolve the land conflict and is violating both international and Venezuelan law.

This project is proceeding without proper environmental studies or consultation with impacted communities. 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. A 100 feet wide service corridor and access roads every kilometer are being built dense tropical rainforest and savanna for the entire 700-kilometer length of the line to Boa Vista, Brazil. Altogether, the power line project is affecting over 15,000 people in 30 communities of Pemon, Kariña, Akawaio, and Arawako Indians. The electrification of the region will opens up the fragile ecosystems of the Canaima National Park (home of Angel Falls) 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. Yesterday, the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) approved a $55 million financing package to the Brazilian Government for the construction costs.

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