Day 5 - 1,200 Venezuelan Indians Shut-Down Traffic on Highway to Brazil Leaders Announce Blockade to Continue Indefinitely


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El Dorado, Venezuela - More than 1,200 Indians from the Imataca and Gran Sabana regions are now gathered at kilometer 16 blocking all traffic along 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. At a press conference held in Caracas today, the Indigenous leaders announced their plans to continue the blockades of the road indefinitely since the government has been unwilling to recognize or respect their land rights. Beginning early this morning, no cars or trucks have been able to pass on the road between El Dorado and Santa Elena.

Nearly 50 members of the Venezuelan National Guards are on the scene and have been periodically blocking telephone communications from the region. The Indigenous blockades began on July 27 and 28. The Indigenous peoples did suspend their protests for a week in response to an offer from the Venezuelan government to meet. However the representatives the Venezuelan Government has sent to the table have been without any real decision-making power. The blockades resumed again on August 5. The Indigenous leaders are asking the Government of Venezuela to send a delegation of top ministers to the table including the Ministers of the Frontiers, Agriculture, the Federal Prosecutor, and the Attorney General of the Republic.

The power line 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 through 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, Karina, Akawaio, and Arawako Indians. The electrification of the region goes hand in hand with the government's plan to open up the fragile ecosystems of the Canaima National Park (home of Angel Falls) and the Imataca rainforest to large-scale mining, tourism, and logging development. The first customer of the power is the $670-million gold mine belonging to the Canadian company, Placer Dome. On August 4, the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) approved a $55 million financing package to the Brazilian Government for the construction costs on the Brazilian side.

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