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Indigenous communities fight Irish coal mining co. over ancestral lands

Published by MAC on 2005-03-27

Indigenous communities fight Irish coal mining co. over ancestral lands

March 27, 2005

By Patrick J. O'Donoghue

Coal mining protestVenezuelan Wayuu and Bari indigenous from the Cachiri communities (Zulia State) have set up pickets outside the offices of the Irish Cano Seco Coal company offices in North Maracaibo's Uni Centro Virginia.

The company is mining coal on what the protesters consider ancestral lands. Brandishing placards saying No to Coal! and Go Home Transnationals!, protesters say they are prepared to fight to defend their lands like their forefathers did.

Cano Seco currently possesses concessions in 5,782 hectares of land in the Perija mountain range.

Environmentalists and indigenous leaders insist they will hold company representative, Irishman Brendan Hynes responsible for anything that happens to ethnic groups living in the Socuy area warning that the Wayuu vengeance code would be employed as a deterrent.

Homo et natura environmentalist, Lusbi Portillo accuses Hynes of threatening to use the National Guard (GN) to force entry into Socuy, if the Wayuu continue to deny access to company employees.

Environmentalists, Wayuu, Bari and Yukpa indians have announced a march in Caracas on March 31 to ask President Hugo Chavez Frias to wrest concessions from the transnational coal companies that want to ravage the Perija mountain range.

Wayuu indian, Jorge Montiel says the demonstration will show whether the President "prefers us or the transnationals."

Venezuela's Indigenous Protest Against Coal Mining in their Lands

By Sarah Wagner -

Apr 01, 2005

Caracas, Venezuela - Yesterday over six hundred Venezuelan indigenous people of the Wayú, Barí, and Yukpa ethnicities marched from the Plaza Morelos to the Presidential Palace of Miraflores in Caracas, protesting coal exploitation in the western state of Zulia. Alongside the indigenous people, civil society groups, political organizations, ecological and environment agencies and NGOs of the region walked the two miles to hand deliver a letter of protest to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Alvaro Acontacai, a representatative for the Barí ethnicity, explained that the letter protests coal mining in the Sierra de Perijá, the most northern chain of Andes mountains, charging that mining of the mineral is harmful both to the environment and to the people.

The letter details the number of workers in coal businesses Carbones de Guasare and Carbones del la Guajira who have come down with work-related illnesses. It explains that coal mining has not only displaced indigenous populations from their homes but also Zulia residents due to the contamination of the Catatumbo and Zulia rivers, preventing the five million citizens of Zulia from attaining daily access to water. Destroying the water supply not only harms the environment, the letter states, but also prevents the cultivation of crops and the raising of livestock.

It also made note of the constant stream of vehicular accidents along the routes used to transport the coal, from the mines to the loading docks along the shores of Lake Maracibo. According to Acontacai, the main arteries leading in and out of Maracaibo, as well as the adjoining towns of Santa Cruz de Mara, El Bajo de San Francisco, La Ceiba and La Cañada de Urdabeta, are filled with dust and pieces of coal.

Venezuela's 29 Indigenous tribes won a series of long and hard fought battles with the approval of the country's new Constitution in 2000. This is the first Venezuelan Constitution to guarantee its indigenous populations bicultural and bilingual education, healthcare that incorporates traditional medicine and legal space to fight for ancestral lands, among other political, social, cultural and economic rights.

In fact, Article 120 of the Constitution states that exploitation of any natural resource must respect the above mentioned rights and is "subject to prior information and consultation with the native communities concerned."

Also, Venezuela's indigenous peoples have three indigenous representatives in the National Assembly, who belong to the coalition of parties that support President Chavez.

Yet as multi-million dollar development projects attempt to extract coal from the region advance, Venezuela's 314,000 indigenous people, who make up 1% of the population, insist that social rights must weigh more than economic profits.

Some of the demonstrators accused the Chavez government of allowing neoliberal practices in the explotation of coal, by allowing multinational corporations -which they accuse of contamining the environment- to operate freely.

Venezuela: indígenas marcharon en protesta por explotación del carbón

31 de Marzo de 2005

Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias

Coal protestsMás de 600 representantes indígenas de las etnias Wayúu, Barí y Yukpa marcharon este jueves desde la plaza Morelos hasta el Palacio de Miraflores, en protesta por la explotación del carbón en la Sierra de Perijá, estado Zulia.

El representante de la etnia Barí, Alvaro Acontacai, explicó que para este recorrido fueron convocadas todas las organizaciones sociales, políticas, grupos ecológicos, ambientales y sociales de varias zonas de esa región.

Acontacai explicó que el objetivo es llevar al Presidente de la República, Hugo Chávez Frías, un pronunciamiento formal, el cual, según explicó, será entregado en el Palacio de Miraflores.

En el documento expresan su protesta contra la explotación del carbón en la Sierra de Perijá, donde muchos trabajadores de las empresas mixtas Carbones de Guasare y Carbones de la Guajira, resultaron afectados por enfermedades de neumoconiosis, producto de la actividad.

Acontacai se refirió además a los constantes accidentes viales originados a lo largo de las carreteras por donde se transporta el carbón mineral, desde las minas hacia los terminales de embarque, a orillas del lago de Maracaibo.

Describió el poblador de la etnia Barí que todo este recorrido está lleno de polvo y de partículas de carbón, al igual que centros poblados aledaños a los terminales del embarque de Santa Cruz de Mara, El Bajo de San Francisco, La Ceiba y la Cañada de Urdaneta.

Sostuvo que lo que consideró una tragedia amenaza a todos los indígenas, así como a parcelas agrícolas, haciendas y el agua de la Sierra, y a los ríos Catatumbo y Zulia.

Indigenous communities fight Irish coal mining co. over ancestral lands

By Owen Conlon, Irish Independent

31 March 2005

Two indigenous tribes in Venezuela who are objecting to plans to mine coal in their region have warned a leading Irish businessman that they will hold him responsible if any harm comes to their community.

The Wayuu and Bari ethnic groups have petitioned Venezuela's president to withdraw mining concessions held by Caño Seco Coal, in which former Telecom Eireann chairman Brendan Hynes is involved.

The company holds almost 6,000 hectares worth of concessions in the Sierra Perija mountains in the remote northwestern province of Zulia, near the Colombian border.

It has been carrying out exploratory surveys and plans to begin mining for coal there later this year.

The seam in which the company is interested in lies near two rivers, the Maché and the Socuy.

However, many locals are bitterly opposed to the proposals, which they say will force 350 families to leave their land because it will pollute their only water supply.

Academics at a local university have also expressed fears that the mining will also destroy the main water supply for the region's capital, Maracaibo, a city of over 1 million.

"The coal is at the heart of the hydrological valley," says Coribell Nava, a biologist at the University of Venezuela in Maracaibo.

"The concessions that are being granted in the Sierra Perija would terminate our water source."

The tribes say mining in the nearby Manuelote region has already displaced many families and insist that the same will not happen in their community.

So far, residents have prevented workers from entering the area to mark out deposits, but they claim that Caño Seco has threatened to use the police to force them through if necessary.

The indigenous have warned that they will hold Mr Hynes responsible if anything happens to any of them.

"For any violent act or any death, he will have to pay under Wayuu tribal law", said spokesman Lusbi Portillo, who is a professor at Maracaibo's university.

There is some concern for Prof Portillo's safety after a local government official allegedly referred to him as 'a terrorist' during a public meeting called to discuss Caño Seco's plans last December.

It is also claimed that death threats have been issued against Prof Portillo and three other men, who are leaders of local tribal communities.

Violence in the region is common, and three trade union activists were shot dead across the border in Colombia just before Christmas.

According to Prof Portillo, Caño Seco has also hired armed men in order to intimidate those opposed to the mine.

The extent of Mr Hynes involvement in Caño Seco is not clear.

Those against the mine consider the ex Telecom Eireann and Sunday Tribune chairman as the figurehead of Caño Seco and he has been named as the company's president in some news reports.

When contacted, he insisted that the protestors' problem is with a government-owned mining firm and not with Caño Seco and declined to comment further.

However, Professor Portillo reiterated that their main problem is with Caño Seco and said that a demonstration was held outside the company's offices in Maracaibo last Saturday.

He also claimed that when an attempt was made to contact Mr Hynes via telephone, the businessman began shouting down the phone at them.

The protestors are travelling to the capital Caracas today (Thurs) where they will a seek a meeting with president Hugo Chavez to ask him to revoke Caño Seco's concessions.

Mineral-rich Venezuela is the second largest coal producer in South America and is believed to have massive untapped reserves in its more remote provinces.

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