Day 11 of Protest in the Venezuelan Amazon: Venezuelan National Guard Brings in Tanks to Disperse Protestors


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El Dorado, Venezuela - At approximately 6:30 am (EST) today, fifty members of the Venezuelan National Guard moved into kilometer 16, the site of the 11-day old blockade – to disperse 800 Indigenous peoples protesting the construction of a new high voltage power line from Venezuela to Brazil. Using an artillery tank, the National Guard removed the giant logs the Indians had used to block traffic along this only road to Brazil.

Speaking to Amazon Watch via telephone from the region, Jerrick Andre of the Indigenous Federation of the State of Bolivar reported: "the National Guard came in early this morning in full force and in riot gear with orders from Caracas to remove our blockade. Using a military tank, they removed the logs we had used to block the road. The soldiers then began forcing our people out of their tents, some still sleeping or half dressed, and continued to disassemble some of our tents." After several hours of negotiations with the Indigenous captains, the National Guard agreed to honor the Indigenous people's main concern and not allow passage of trucks carrying equipment or materials for use in the construction of the power line.

The Indigenous people maintain that the power line which cuts right through their rainforest homeland is in violation of international and Venezuelan law. On a daily basis since July 27, between 500 and 1200 members of the Akawaio, Arawako, Pemon, and Kariña tribes have been camping at kilometer 16 periodically blocking all traffic on the road which is also used by the construction crews working on the new power line. The Minister of Frontiers and a representative from the Electrical Company have agreed to meet with Indigenous leaders tomorrow, August 13 in Ciudad Bolivar. This is the first time top ranking Venezuelan officials will be meeting with the Indigenous leaders since the protests began.

The Indigenous peoples are demanding that the Venezuelan government legally recognize and respect the boundaries of their ancestral lands. Specifically, they 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. In addition to the protests, Indigenous and environmental groups have filed two lawsuits, one challenging the Decree and the other, challenging the construction of the power line through Indigenous territory.

The construction of the power line is proceeding without proper environmental studies or consultation with impacted communities and is destroying large areas of forest and land Indigenous peoples rely on for their livelihood. A 100-foot wide service corridor as well as access roads every kilometer, are being built through dense tropical rainforest and savanna for the entire 470-mile length of the line to Boa Vista, Brazil. Altogether, the power line project is affecting over 15,000 people in 30 Indigenous communities. The electrification of the region is part of the government's plan to open up the fragile ecosystems of the Canaima National Park (a World Heritage Site and 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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