Power Lines Invade Venezuelan Parkland
March 17 1997
The Pemon Indians of southeastern Venezuela expressed their
extreme concern at the prospect of high tension power lines
crossing their lands as part of the country's plan to sell
electricity to Brazil. At a meeting of Pemon leaders last week,
letters were sent to various government agencies demanding
further information concerning the project and direct
consultation over any decisions made involving their lands.
In the autumn of 1997, Presidents Rafael Caldera of Venezuela and Fernando Enrique Cardoso of Brazil signed an agreement to provide Brazil with electricity by 1998. The agreement requires the construction of high-tension power lines from the Raul Leoni complex of dams on the River Orinoco south to Brazil through Bolívar State and Canaima National Park. The state company EDELCA, afiliate of the Corporacíón Venezolana de Guayana (CVG), will tender contracts and supervise the work.
The most likely course of the pylons is thought to be along the main Troncal 10 highway, which links Venezuela to Brazil's Roraima State. The lines could cross up to 200 kilometres of Canaima National Park, depending on which side of the road is chosen. Irreperable damage to the Sierra de Lema range of mountains, on the Guyana Shield's and Canaima's northern edge, is also feared. The range is known for the endemism of its flora and fauna and its great biodiversity. It is also largely unexplored.
Pemon leaders stated in the letters, "We require this information as soon as possible in view of the recent media coverage of the matter, and the presence of technical personnel surveying in the area. This despite the lack of knowledge of such activities by public servants in the region in charge of administering affected areas. We ask for this information in accordance with article 67 of our Constitution."
Juvencio Gómez, the leading 'captain' of the Gran Sabana's Pemon, said "We are very worried about the project. It is unjust that as citizens and aboriginals of this region we are not involved at any level in decision-making processes. We insist we be fully informed of projects, of any sort. Dialogue is essential."
On no occasion have the Pemon, who have historically inhabited eastern Bolívar State been consulted. Neither do they have any idea of the exact future location of pylons, roads and prospective health impacts. Other institutions, such as the country's Institute of National Parks, INPARQUES, are also ignorant of EDELCA's plans. The only plans to come to light to date conspicuously stopped short of describing the course of pylons at the foot of the Sierra de Lema range.
A spokesperson for the Venezuelan Senate's Permanent Environmental Commission promised to pressure for a full impact assessment of the project. "We want to minimise the environmental and social damage the plan could cause. We will be calling for an open debate of the proposals to ensure as much participation from all parties affected. The lack of public and institutional knowledge about such a large-scale and costly project is frightening."
Canaima National Park was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995 and is one of the largest and most admired national parks in the world. Environmentalists believe its heritage status might well be revoked in view of the project's social, biological and visual impact.
Recent investigations into the effects of high-tension electric currents have revealed worrying evidence of their harmful health impacts, and their adverse effects on magnetic fields and bio-energetic processes. In view of the region's limited anthropic intervention to date, the plan's impact will be dramatic.
The region is also known for the great fragility of its soils. Damage inflicted on top soils in the late Eighties by the building of the Troncal 10 highway has largely failed to recuperate, eroding progressively to create 20 feet gulleys which alter watercourses.
In letters to the President of EDELCA, Efraim Carrera Saúd, and the Ministry of Health, Pemon leaders demanded detailed information on the exact trajectory of the powerlines; the mesures to be employed by CVG-EDELCA to minimise environmental and social impacts; a description of the activities which EDELCA will execute in order to carry out maintenance and repair the lines, and detailed maps drawn by state's surveying agency, the Dirección de Cartografía Nacional.
Juvencio Gómez said that the Pemon "We want to defend our lands, our forests, our rivers and way of life. Projects as potencially destructive as these only benefit large companies and entrepreneurs, while the majority perceive no improvement. They want to make the Indian into another white-man's maid."