PEMON INDIANS PARALYSE POWERLINES
In a dramatic twist last week, Pemon Indians affected by the high-tension
power lines set to cross their traditional lands twice paralysed work near
the villages of San Rafael de Kamoiran and San Francisco de Yuruani in
Venezuela's southeastern Bolivar State.
The action came as a result of the state-owned company CVG-EDELCA and
INPARQUES failing to reply to letters from the Pemon pleading for information
and consultation. Government institutions have in fact broken the Venezuelan
Law of Administrative Proceedings by failing to reply within fifteen days.
Kenton Miller, the director of the prestigious World Resources Institute
has voiced his concern over the proposed high-tension powerlines plan which
will affect the reknowned World Heritage Site of Canaima National Park
in southeastern Venezuela.
In a letter to the Venezuelan Parks Institute (INPARQUES) president,
Luisa Himiob de Rojas, Kenton Miller asked for more information regarding
the plans and for the institute's position to them, Himiob having already
voiced her support for the project.
Pemon leaders stated they would continue to stop the project until
they are presented with detailed plans regarding the positioning of vertices,
and involved in all consultation. The Pemon General Captain is concerned
the lines will open Pemon traditional lands to mining and other extractive
activities which have already caused serious damage in the region.
In a leaked report by the consultancy firm involved in the powerlines
project, the budget for the southern half of the powerlines' trajectory
alone could cost Venezuela up to $30 million, and will be completed by
August 1998, just in time for national elections in both Brazil and Venezuela.
Work is set to begin in July of this year and leaves little time for consultation
or for an adequate Environmental Impact Assessment to be carried out.
The section of powerline affecting the huge Canaima National Park is
a 230kV line running 204km from the proposed Las Claritas substation to
the north of the park to the town of Santa Elena de Uairen close to the
border with Brazil. This section incudes a substation in the mining settlement
of Las Cristinas. The entire route falls within protected areas: 80% in
Canaima National Park (60% of this within the strict protection zones),
15% in the Imataca Forest Reserve and 5% in the Sur del Estado Bolivar
The impact of the powerlines on what is an extremely fragile and varied
ecosystem, with an extremely high proportion of species found nowhere else
in the world will be extensive. The area forms part of the world's largest
tropical wilderness area.
The leaked plan describes the service corridor, which runs the length
of the line, as being between 12m wide in savanna and 33m wide in forest,
including a 3-6m wide track on either side of the lines to allow travel
in 4WD vehicles. The access roads will be 3-6m wide to allow penetration
of heavy machinery and 4WD vehicles. The sites for pylons will require
the clearing of 50-100sq.m. of vegetation.
Environmentalist groups in Venezuela are particularly concerned by
the impact on the mountain range of the Sierra de Lema which is still largely
unexplored and known for the endimism of its plant life. It is feared damage
inflicted will seriously affect animal life within the range which is largely
untouched, situated as it is on the northeastern edge of the park.
The chief beneficiary of the powerlines is certain to be the mining
industry based in Las Claritas the north of the National Park, but also,
and more worryingly, mining activities which are increasing on the park's
southern border north and west of the town of Santa Elena de Uairen. Despite
legislation protecting this southern region, damage due to small- and medium-scale
mining has increased dramatically over the last years due to the complicity
of government instiutions such as the Guardia Nacional and Ministry of
Mines and Energy. It is rumoured the government hopes to open up all the
area to the south of the Park to large-scale mining, for which large amounts
of electricity will be a prerequisite.
Confusingly, the leaked document also states benefits of the plan as
providing electricity to the Pemon communities along the road and proposed
route, despite these already posessing adequate hydropower installations.
It is doubtful whether the Pemon's protest will stop the project completely
at this late stage, but it is hoped their resistance will at least diminish
the potentially disastrous impact of the powerlines on their land.