Venezuelan National Guard Assaults Indigenous Community with Tear Gas and Rubber Bullets for Blocking Construction of Power line


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Mapauri, Venezuela - At approximately 3:20 p.m. EST yesterday, the Venezuelan National Guard - with orders from an unidentified source - assaulted residents of Mapauri, a small Indigenous community in the State of Bolivar located in the municipality of the Gran Sabana. Members of the community had been peacefully gathered in the area where construction workers were attempting to resume work on the 450-mile power line planned from Venezuela to Brazil through Indigenous peoples\' land. Three Pemon Indians, Raúl Durán, Fabian Lambos and Horangle Pulido, a thirteen year-old boy, were sent to the hospital in Santa Elena with injuries from rubber bullets and tear gas. The National Guard remains in the area and more violence is feared.

Yesterday\'s unexpected incident comes the day after the Indigenous Federation of the State of Bolivar and the Venezuelan Government reached a historic agreement in which the Government committed to suspend work on the power line until the question of land title is resolved. The Indigenous people have been unyielding in their demand that the Venezuelan government legally recognize their ancestral lands. \"When the latter issue is resolved, community leaders will discuss with the Government the merits of the power line. However, until then we maintain our current position that all work on the line be halted,\" stated Jose Luis Gonzalez, president of the Indigenous Federation of Bolivar. The Indigenous Federation of Bolivar maintains that the power line, which cuts right through their rainforest homeland, is in violation of international and Venezuelan law.

González continued by saying, \"This incident puts in jeopardy the open process that had been established between our people and the Venezuelan Government over the last few weeks.\" Since August 13, Indigenous leaders have been meeting regularly with a high-level government delegation comprised of ministers of the Environment, Frontier Affairs and the Interior, as well as the Attorney General of Venezuela. González expressed deep concern about yesterday\'s attack on the community. In an open letter to the Minister of Defense he demanded an explanation: \"We want to know whose order it was to attack our community and if the high level orders did not come from you, then who did they come from?\"

The 50-family community of Mapauri was holding steadfast to blocking construction crews working on the power line as part of the month-long protest which began on July 27 with the blockade of the only highway between Venezuela and Brazil. On a daily basis since the protest began, between 500 and 1200 members of the Akawaio, Arawako, Pemon, and Kariña tribes have been camping at kilometer 16 periodically blocking traffic (construction crews in particular).

The next meeting between the Indigenous leaders and the government is scheduled for September 4. Altogether the power line project will affect 15,000 people in thirty Indigenous communities. The high-voltage electrical transmission line is part of the Venezuelan government\'s plan to open up the nine million acre Imataca Forest Reserve and Canaima National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to large-scale mining and logging.

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