Venezuelan Indians Down Electrical Towers and Block Construction Crews More than 200 National Guards Surround Pemon Protestors


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Gran Sabana, Venezuela - Since yesterday, Pemon Indigenous communities living in Venezuela's Gran Sabana region have downed four electrical towers on their land ten miles from the City of Santa Elena near the border with Brazil. In a growing protest that began last Friday, Indigenous communities have been interrupting traffic and blocking construction crews along the Venezuela-Brazil highway following a move by the state-owned power company, Corporación Venezolano de Guyana (CVG), to resume construction works on a new high voltage electrical transmission line. Some 200 members of the Venezuelan National Guard have surrounded more than 500 protestors and have warned them that if they down another tower, there will be retaliation.

Construction on the power line had been suspended since last May in response to Congressional inquiries on the Indigenous and environmental problems and widespread protest over the project.

The Pemon leaders who call themselves "Rainbow Warriors" according to an old tribal legend, say that each day, they will attempt to remove another steel tower from their land until the land conflict is resolved. Tuesday, community leaders detained three construction trucks belonging the construction company Elecven and CVG and have paralyzed construction works on the 470-mile electrical lines that is planned from the Guri Dam in Venezuela to the City of Boa Vista, Brazil.

The Indigenous leaders are calling on President Hugo Chavez to come to the Gran Sabana and meet to discuss land rights. The protests were fueled by press reports that quoted Clemente Scotto, President of CVG, as saying that all environmental issues and land conflicts with Indigenous communities affected by the project had been resolved and that CVG had reached agreement with these communities to allow the power line project to be completed by mid 2000.

According to Jerrick Andre of the Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State, "Indigenous communities throughout the Gran Sabana have denounced the CVG statement as a big lie and a sign of lack of respect for Indigenous peoples rights."

Altogether the power line affects 15,000 Indigenous people in over thirty communities of the Akawaio, Arawako, Pemon, and Kariña tribes. The Pemon have issued a call to the international and Venezuelan media to bear witness. Venezuela has some of the weakest legal guarantees in the hemisphere for Indigenous peoples who face growing conflicts over land and resource rights. The power line will have serious environmental impacts on the pristine tropical forest and savanna ecosystems including boosting industrial gold mining and logging in the region.

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