Construction Crews Blocked by Indigenous Protestors in Venezuela Military Tank and Riot Team Sent to Popular Tourist Destination


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Since Monday, October 12, more than 250 indigenous residents of the Canaima National Park and surrounding areas of southern Venezuela have been protesting again against the 450-mile power line being built to Brazil. The protests come one month after Venezuelan government unilaterally broke off talks with the Indian leaders. For the third consecutive day, indigenous communities partially blocked traffic along the road to Brazil in particular, blocking construction crews working on the power line. The protest is centered in San Francisco de Yuruani, the town at the base of Mount Roraima, the legendary flat topped mountain featured in story of "the Lost World" of the Amazon.

In response to the protest, the Venezuelan National Guard has sent more than forty soldiers in riot gear and has stationed a military tank outside the village of Kumarakapay (San Francisco de Yuruani), a popular tourist destination. Indigenous leaders say that the use violence by the National Guard is an imminent threat but vow to firmly hold their ground.

According to Jose Luis Gonzalez, the spokesperson from the Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State, "the Pemon communities will continue to peacefully block construction crews here indefinitely until we receive a positive response from the government of Venezuela. We are demanding that the Government resume talks over our ancestral land claims and halt the construction of the power line through our communities until our land rights and environmental issues have been dealt with."

Indigenous protests against the power line began in July and August and culminated in a "historic" declaration by the Venezuelan Government stating its commitment to legally recognize the boundaries of the indigenous areas. In August, construction works were temporarily paralyzed. However on September 4, the government unilaterally broke off scheduled talks with indigenous leaders. Since then, the construction of the power line has been rapidly advancing destroying large tracts of rainforest and savannas as well as a significant number of indigenous sacred sites and subsistence farms.

In attempt to divide the indigenous communities, on October 8, the government issued "fake" land use titles to five of the 34 communities affected by the project, an action denounced by the Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State and the Permanent Council of Chiefs as "a trap to fractionalize our unity."

Since late August, the entire route of the power line has been heavily militarized by the National Guard who have been accompanying the construction crews in order to suppress any opposition. On August 26, the National Guard attacked 300 members of the Mapauri village using tear gas and rubber bullets to break the community’s attempt to block the construction crews. Three Indians were hospitalized following that incident.

The communities continue to press legal means to challenge the project both nationally and internationally. In addition to the two court cases already filed, the Federation recently filed a third lawsuit challenging the bilateral agreement on the power line between the Governments of Venezuela and Brazil and is preparing to request a hearing at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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