Venezuelan Indigenous Communities Reaffirm Opposition to Power-line Project Despite Offers of Bribes by Companies Pemon Leader Speaks with Venezuelan President, Issues Statement As Standoff Continues


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Gran Sabana, Venezuela – Representatives from the Pemon Indigenous communities of Venezuela's Gran Sabana region have reaffirmed their opposition to the Guri power-line project, despite reports of bribes by ABB, ELECVEN and EDELCA, three companies involved in the construction and operation of the new high voltage electrical transmission line project. Reports of bribes of money, food and sporting goods have surfaced in at least two communities along the project's path through Pemon traditional lands. Pemon Indigenous leader Jovencio Gomez, who spoke with Venezuelan President Chavez by telephone yesterday, reiterated his people's rights to self determination, and vowed to continue the protests.

"First of all, we were patient, waiting for the government to listen to us, for us to be taken into account. Up to now we this has not happened. We have taken action into our own hands, and exercised our rights in the supreme court of justice. We have had protests, and specific marches, but we still weren't listened to. We are clear about what specialists say will happen to our community if this project goes through. That is why we take these kinds of actions, acting to tell Venezuela, the world, and our government that the Indigenous people exist and we have rights, and we must be taken into account. Our culture and traditions have a right to exist and be taken into account just like any culture," Gomez, said.

In response to demands that meet with communities in the region, Chavez telephoned yesterday, and agreed to visit the protest site upon his return from an upcoming trip to Asia. Earlier this week, a high level government delegation, including Raúl Salazar, the country’s Minister of Defense and Jesús Pérez, Minister of Environment, met with Pemon representatives.

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 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.

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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