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Indians oppose electric power line in prized Venezeulan national park

June 26, 1997

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Indians and environmentalists are trying to overturn a government plan to run a high-voltage power line through a prized national park in Venezuela’s ``Lost World″ of Amazon rain forests and ancient rock formations.

The proposed 230,000-volt line would ``mean the start of an invasion and destruction of our region,″ Juvencio Gomez, a chief of the Pemon Indian tribe, told reporters at Congress on Thursday.

Nearly 90 Pemon leaders representing the tribe’s 19,000 members traveled to Caracas from their villages in the eastern Venezuelan state of Bolivar, near Brazil, to voice opposition to the plan.

The $110 million, 288-mile line would provide hydroelectric power from the Guri dam, one of the world’s largest, to Roraima state in Brazil and to gold mining companies and Indian communities in Venezuela.

One-third of it would run through the 7.4 million-acre Canaima National Park, which at 1 1/2 times the size of Wales is the world’s sixth largest national park.

A popular tourist destination, Canaima is home to Angel Falls, which at 3,208 feet is the world’s longest cascade of water, and eerily beautiful, flat-topped mountains called ``tepuis,″ which were the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic adventure story ``The Lost World.″

The ancient formations prompted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to declare the park one of about 100 World Heritage Sites in 1994. The organization must be advised by local governments of any potential changes or damage to the sites.

Luis Castro Morales, vice minister of Venezuela’s Environment Ministry, said the line would run alongside a highway already built in Canaima, would not go near the tepuis and would cause little environmental damage.

Caldera signed an agreement with Brazil in January to build the power line. Construction is scheduled to start next month, with electricity is to start flowing by late 1998.

Indian leaders claim the line is part of a plan to expand gold mining in Venezuela’s fragile rain forests. President Rafael Caldera, in a similarly controversial move, late last month authorized legal gold mining in the 8.9 million-acre Imataca forest reserve, located near Canaima.

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