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Venezuela Indians Defend Park

July 29, 1998

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ About 400 Indians blocked Venezuela’s main highway to Brazil with huge logs to protest a high-voltage power line being built in the ``Lost World″ of Amazon rain forests.

They shut down the El Dorado-Santa Elena International Highway near the gold mining town of El Dorado on Monday and Tuesday, said Nicolas Betis of the Bolivar State Indian Federation. They might do it again Friday.

The line is to supply electricity to Brazil, Indian communities in Venezuela and gold mining companies that plan to come to Venezuela to extract some of the largest gold deposits in Latin America.

But construction of the $110 million, 300-mile power line is deforesting swaths of jungle and destroying Indian yuca, corn, banana, sugar and pineapple crops, Betis said.

The project is affecting about 15,000 people in 30 communities of Pemon, Karina, Akawaio and Arawako Indians. The protesters say much of the land where the power line is going up belongs to them and they were never consulted.

One-third of the power line is to run through the 7.4-million-acre Canaima National Park, a popular tourist destination. It is home to Angel Falls, which at 3,200 feet is the world’s longest cascade, and to the eerily beautiful, flat-topped mountains that were the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic adventure story ``The Lost World.″

Government officials say the power line is to run mainly alongside highways in the region and will cause little environmental damage.

Mary Lou Goodwin, vice president of the Venezuela branch of the Audubon Society, called the deforestation ``horrible.″

Some of the logs the Indians rolled onto the highway were nearly as wide as she is tall, she said.

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