From: Natalie Obiko Pearson, Associated Press
Published October 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Indigenous Groups Demand Chavez Stop Coal Mining in Western Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela — Dozens of Indians from western Venezuela protested in the capital Tuesday demanding a halt to mining in their region and calling government efforts to formalize their ownership of ancestral lands a "fraud."

"The demarcation of indigenous lands and habitats is a fraud," the protesters from the Wayuu, Bari and Yukpa tribes of Zulia's Sierra de Perija region said in a statement. "They will allocate lands to us but later try to evict us to exploit coal."

The protesters said three mines were set to go into production -- beginning with the Socuy mine in January 2006 followed later by the Cachiri and Cano Seco mines -- despite a pledge by President Hugo Chavez to revoke mining concessions that would damage the environment and indigenous communities.

Angela Aurora, leader of the Wayuu delegation, said coal mining in other parts of Zulia has already deforested thousands of hectares (acres), contaminated rivers and killed or sickened inhabitants with respiratory diseases caused by coal dust.

"It is contamination of our way of life and our environment," she said.


Chavez oversaw the adoption of a new constitution in 1999 that recognizes indigenous groups' collective ownership of ancestral lands and allows their participation in marking territorial boundaries.

The president of Corpozulia, the national government's regional development corporation, said Tuesday that no coal was being exploited in the Sierra de Perija region where the tribes live.

Carlos Eduardo Martinez said the Environment Ministry had withdrawn mining concessions in the area due to the fragility of the local ecosystem, according to the state-run Bolivarian News Agency.

In August, Chavez presented property titles to six indigenous communities with some 4,000 people in the eastern states of Anzoategu and Monagas, recognizing their ownership of territory covering 127,000 hectares (313,690 acres).

Chavez has said the government plans to turn over titles to 15 other indigenous communities by the end of the year. He travels Wednesday to the southwestern state of Apure to present titles to communities there.

Leonardo Martinez, chief of the Tukuko community of the Yukpa tribe from Zulia state, said such titles would bring no benefits to his community.

"We are rejecting the land title," said Martinez. "We are rejecting it because this land title is (being offered) in exchange for coal mines."

Venezuela's government has been reviewing all mining concessions and contracts and has vowed to cancel deals where companies have left mines idle or have failed to comply with laws, including environmental guidelines.

Source: Associated Press

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