Venezuelan Ministers of Defense and Environment Bring Delegation to Gran Sabana for Meeting With Indian Protesters Pemon Demand Meeting With President Chavez As Standoff Over Power-line Project Continues


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Gran Sabana, Venezuela – Representatives from the Pemon Indigenous communities of Venezuela's Gran Sabana region met Monday with a high level government delegation, including Raúl Salazar, the country’s Minister of Defense and Jesús Pérez, Minister of Environment, as protests continue 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.

In a growing protest that began on September 23rd, Indigenous communities have downed four electrical towers on their land ten miles from the City of Santa Elena near the border with Brazil, and have been interrupting traffic and blocking construction crews along the Venezuela-Brazil highway. Some 200 members of the Venezuelan National Guard have surrounded the protestors and have warned them that if they down another tower, there will be retaliation. Last Friday, The National Guard agreed to prevent the power line construction crews from continuing their work as long as no more towers are torn down.

Construction on the power line had been suspended since early 1999 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 they will attempt to remove other steel towers from their land until the land conflict is resolved. Last week, community leaders detained three construction trucks belonging the construction company Elecven and CVG, and have paralyzed construction works on the 470-mile electrical line 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 Pemon rejected talks with the Ministers Monday, reissuing their demand to speak with Chavez directly. 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.

Representatives from Amazon Watch’s Communications Team are in the region capturing video and still images and narratives of this protest, which are available by contacting Amazon Watch’s US office or by cell phone.

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