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Asunto:[LEA-Venezuela] Indigenous Peoples Protest Coal Mining/Humberto Márque z (IPS)
Fecha:Lunes, 4 de Abril, 2005  21:46:33 (-0400)
Autor:Jorge Hinestroza M. <vitae>

Indigenous Peoples Protest Coal Mining
Humberto Márquez

CARACAS, Apr 4 (IPS) - Bare-chested, clad in traditional dress and wielding
bows and arrows, hundreds of representatives of the Barí, Yukpa and Wayúu
indigenous peoples from the westernmost region of Venezuela marched on the
capital to demand a halt to coal mining near their lands in the Sierra de
Perijá mountain range.

Coal mining operations ”bring pollution and disease. They are destroying our
farming practices, they are going to destroy our water, and they will end up
destroying our lives,” Cesáreo Panapaera, the leader of 32 Yukpa communities
in Tokuko, some 600 kilometres from Caracas, told IPS.

Scores of environmentalists and leftist political activists joined the
indigenous protestors in their march through downtown Caracas last Thursday.
Their destination was the federal government headquarters, but they were
stopped 150 metres from its gates by anti-riot police.

”We want to tell compañero President Hugo Chávez that he can't continue
granting land concessions in the Sierra and in Guajira (a neighbouring
region along the Venezuelan-Colombian border) without consulting us first,
as required by the constitution. He speaks very nicely about us, but they
haven't demarcated our lands,” said Wayúu community leader Angela González.

The indigenous protestors are staunch supporters of the left-wing Chávez.
Most were wearing red headbands with pro-government slogans, which date back
to the presidential recall referendum last August, when a majority voted to
keep the president in office. Others sported red berets, symbolic of the
governing Fifth Republic Movement party.

”Compañero Chávez, support our cause”, read one protest sign, while another
declared, ”Vito barí atañoo yiroo oshishibain (We don't want coal mining)”.
Yet another was a copy of the ”No” signs used by the pro-government side
during the referendum (meaning no to Chávez's removal from the presidency),
but altered to read ”No Coal”.

The Sierra de Perijá mountain range, which marks a section of the border
between Venezuela and Colombia and has suffered severe deforestation in the
latter, along with the neighbouring Guajira peninsula, also straddling both
nations, are home to significant coal deposits.

Colombia produces around 40 million tons of coal a year, mainly from two
mines in this region, Cerrejón and La Loma.

In 1987, coal operations started up in the Guasare mines of northwestern
Venezuela. Last year, production totalled eight million tons. According to
estimates, the Sierra-Guajira region contains coal reserves of at least 400
million tons, which means that current production levels could be sustained
for another 50 years.

Coal production operations are directed through consortiums formed between
the Venezuelan state-owned company Carbozulia and a number of transnational
corporations: the British-South African firm Anglo American; Ruhrkohle of
Germany; Inter-American Coal of the Netherlands; Chevron-Texaco of the
United States; and British-Dutch energy giant Shell.

Last year, Carbozulia and Companhia Vale do Rio Doce of Brazil established a
new consortium, Carbosuramérica, to undertake additional mining operations
in the region. According to the president of the Brazilian corporation,
Roger Agnelli, the goal is to raise annual output to 10 million tons within
a decade from now.

All of the coal is currently transported by truck to the port in the
regional capital, Maracaibo. However, there are plans to build both a
railway line and a deep sea port off the western coast of the Gulf of
Venezuela, in order to facilitate coal exports from both Venezuela and

”Venezuela is becoming an exit platform to the Caribbean Sea, through the
building of ports, bridges, highways and railways which serve the interests
of the countries and transnationals that need to get their products out, but
which sacrifice the environment and the rights of the people living in the
area,” said environmentalist Lusbi Portillo from the Homo et Natura Society,
a non-governmental group.

As a result, ”we are opposed to these mining-ports projects that form part
of the IIRSA (Initiative for South American Regional Infrastructure
Integration, promoted by the nascent South American Community of Nations),
which will serve to take our energy, mining, forestry and biodiversity
resources to Europe and the United States,” added Portillo.

Along the route used to transport the coal for export, ”the water is
polluted, waterways are obstructed, the air breathed by humans, animals and
plants is contaminated, the habitat of the aboriginal peoples is disturbed
and peasants and indigenous peoples are forced off the land they have
traditionally farmed,” Jorge Hinestroza of the Front for the Defence of
Water and Life told IPS.

Jesús Palmar, a Wayúu activist, commented to IPS that 17 years ago, the
Carbones del Guasare mining consortium purchased the land occupied by his
community, a 36-hectare lot in the Matera Nueva area, for under 2,500
dollars. As additional compensation, the indigenous inhabitants were
promised employment, a new road and other services.

”We made a mistake. It was all lies. They just forgot about us and now we
are living two kilometres from the company's gates. In January there was a
gas-oil leak of around 120,000 litres in the Paso del Diablo stream, which
killed fish, iguanas and squirrels. We used to sow, harvest, and live off of
the land, but now we are being driven to the brink of death,” said Palmar.

Hinestroza maintained that ”for years the rivers and streams have been
polluted with chemical wastes, detergents and coal residue. The communities
near the coal operations breathe smoke. Animals are being born with
 defects,” he added, showing a photograph of deformed goats, ”and human
health is at risk.”

The Guasare, Socuy and Cachuirí rivers feed into the Limón River, which is
the largest north of the Maracaibo lake watershed and supplies the regional
aqueduct system.

Another local environmentalist, Alexander Luzardo, told IPS that the coal
mining conflict intersects ”with another debt owed by the Venezuelan
government, because according to the 1999 constitution, a law was supposed
to be established to demarcate indigenous territory, and this hasn't

Ezequiel Anare, a Yukpa community leader, reported that ”some company
officials have offered us money to keep quiet. But we won't. We are calling
on the president to get these companies off of our territory. We want to
demarcate our lands, where we live, farm and dream. We are the guardians of
the Sierra,” he declared to IPS.

The march in Caracas brought together environmental and human rights
activists who have voiced opposition to the Chávez administration and
enthusiastic supporters of the president, like the representatives of the
community media network. Mixed in with the crowd was Douglas Bravo, perhaps
the best-known communist guerrilla leader in Venezuela in the 1960s and

”This is a manifestation of an autonomous and independent revival of the
popular movement,” said Bravo, who now devotes his efforts to promoting
environmental groups. ”At the same time, it is the beginning of a new stage
in the independent environmental movement, against globalisation and the
multinationals,” he said in an interview with IPS.

Environmental activists maintain that Venezuela is following a mistaken
policy in pursuing coal production, which contradicts its commitments as a
signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, the international instrument aimed at
curbing carbon dioxide emissions.

”We want the government to hear us: we don't want coal,” stressed indigenous
leader Panapaera, who added, ”Here are our bows and arrows, and we will use
them against the miners if they come to our lands. And if we have to die
fighting for our lands, we will die.” (END/2005)


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