VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT FAILS TO DELIVER IN HIS PROMISE TO INDIANS
Hugo Chávez announces the restarting of the Guri Long Line project
Chávez Frías, with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, visiting Brazil: hydroelectric power project is reactivated.
Dida Sampaio / Estado agency
On the eve of completing one hundred days in office as President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez Frías has generated public complaints from Indigenous organizations in his country when he said that a project known as Long Line, interconnecting power transmission between Venezuela and Brazil, would be reactivated. Angry at such news, the Indigenous Federation of the state of Bolivar protested in a public note last April, saying that the new president is breaking his campaign promises, in so deciding. The note further says that the Guyana Venezuelan Corporation, a state company carrying out the project, has announced that the reactivation of the works is has been scheduled for April.
The construction of electric power transmission lines from the Guri dam is aimed at meeting the power demand of Brazilian states on the Northern side of the Amazon river and it is part of a set of bilateral agreements (the Caracas Declaration) signed by Chavezs predecessor, Rafael Caldera, and Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso in July 1995.
The long power line will blaze through forest reservations and the Serra de Imataca and Gran Sabana national parks, before reaching the Brazilian state of Roraima. Pemon, Akawaio, Arawako, Karinã and Warao communities live in these parks. Since June of last year, the Indians have been demanding that these works be stopped and that their rights to the land they occupy be recognized by the government.
In June of last year, amidst clashes between the military and the Indians, who had blocked traffic in the El Dorado - Santa Elena road in Southern Venezuela, the Chavez government announced that the works would be halted.
At that time, government technicians claimed difficulties with the supply of equipment and requested that Brazils Eletronorte power utility review the original schedule, which called for the transmission line to have been concluded by last December.
Chávez Frías election to the Venezuelan presidency brought new hope to the Indians. During his campaign he had made promises such as to revoke Decree 1,850, which opens Indigenous lands in the Imataca forests, close to the Brazilian border, to mineral exploration. Moreover, his choosing Indigenous woman Atala Uriana Pocaterra to be Minister of the Environment led the Indigenous organizations to expect a change in the course of things. The perspective of the installation of a National Constitutional Assembly, approved by a referendum on April 25, opened the possibility that Indigenous rights be made part of a new Venezuelan Constitution.
However, the decree beneficial to the mining companies remains intact and work on the power transmission lines will be restarted, with no evidence of any forthcoming official recognition of the lands occupied by the Indians. "Apparently, Chávez is acting just as his predecessors did to those who criticize him for not living up to his promises", says the note from the Bolivar state Indigenous federation.
As to minister Pocaterra, total skepticism prevails. In an Associated Press report published last May, Indians and environmentalists said that she is unprepared for and does not know how to handle issues intrinsic to her ministry. They fear that she will not resist pressures from economic interests, especially miners and loggers, in the Imataca and Gran Sabana areas.
IN BRAZIL, PROBLEMS WITH INVADERS
When the Guri transmission line is completed and ready on the Venezuelan side of the border, it will connect to the Brazilian system in Pacaraima (state of Roraima), at the border between the two countries, and move on to the Boa Vista substation, Boa Vista being Roraimas state capital. Civil construction works are nearly concluded on the Venezuelan side of the border. According to Porfírio Carvalho, Indigenist consultant to the Eletronorte power utility and responsible for the mitigating actions taken on account of the fact that the transmission line cuts through the São Marcos Indigenous Land, all the transmission towers have already been erected.
Some two thousand Macuxi, Taurepang and Wapixana Indians live in the São Marcos Indigenous Land, and the transmission lines passage through their land led to an agreement between the state power company and the Indians, whereby some one hundred settlers illegally occupying land and farms in the São Marcos Indigenous area would be removed, but this removal process is yet to be completed.
Even though funds are available to compensate those non-Indians who have occupied the land in good faith, a group of 21 families resist leaving the area. Among those, 14 families are regarded as having settled in bad faith, inasmuch as they came after the area was duly demarcated and approved in December 1991.
According to Mr. Carvalho, the deadline has already expired for the land intruders to be removed and the Indians are impatient. Considering that neither FUNAI nor the Federal Office of the Prosecution in the state of Roraima have taken any legal action to solve the problem, Indian chieftains in São Marcos are already discussing the possibility of hiring a lawyer and suing not only the land invaders but even FUNAI itself for its omission.