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Venezuelan Indigenous group rejects presence of state-owned mining company on their land

The Santo Domingo de Turasén community is located in the Gran Sabana municipality, pictured here. (Image by Valentina Ruiz-Leotaud).

An indigenous community whose members belong to the Pemón First Nation issued a communiqué rejecting the opening of an office of the state-owned Venezuelan Mining Corporation in their traditional territory.

In detail, the Pemón from the Santo Domingo de Turasén community in the Gran Sabana municipality of the southeastern Bolívar state said that they reject the fact that the VMC decided to open an office on their land without properly consulting them.

“We are worried about the fact that for the last 20 years of the proposed transition towards a fairer and more democratic society, it has been impossible to displace or break the corrupt and discredited elite [that rules the country], who have not established proper communication channels with most of the Indigenous people,” the statement reads.

The opening of an office of the Venezuelan Mining Corporation in Santa Elena de Uairén is seen as a way of formalizing mining activities in protected areas

The group reminded the Nicolás Maduro regime that both the Venezuelan Constitution and the Law for Indigenous People and Communities establish that previous, informed and free consent is required prior to starting any project that may affect Indigenous lands and their resources. This includes mining and other extractive industries.

The opening of the new office, which would be located in Santa Elena de Uairén – the main town that serves the area where their community is located -, is seen by the community as a way of promoting and formalizing mining activities in protected areas such as the Canaima National Park. 

It is also seen as a way to implement public policies that promote division between different Indigenous communities and weaken the organizational structures of Venezuelan First Nations. 

“They are not following the principles of respecting Indigenous peoples’ sovereignty, sustainability, systematic vision, development under ecological principles and, particularly, of profound respect to Indigenous Peoples,” the release states. “This is why we demand that all actors and government institutions comply with what the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela stipulates when it comes to previous, informed and free consultation, respecting the criteria of interculturality, good faith and ancestral times.”

Long-standing issue

For years now, environmental, human rights and First Nations groups have been denouncing the ransacking of mineral resources in different national parks within the Bolívar state. 

This has been particularly the case since the establishment of the Mining Arc of the Orinoco River National Development Strategic Zone, which is a 111,843 square-kilometre concession area that is equivalent to 12.2% of the country’s landmass and where gold, diamond, iron ore, copper, bauxite, coltan, among other resources are allowed to be mined. 

Even though the Arc was supposed to regulate mining in the region, in reality, murky operations take place in and around its extension.

Canaima National Park, which is home to massive rivers and waterfalls and is a Unesco World Heritage Site, has become a particular area of interest. This situation worries both the Pemón and environmentalists, who have repeatedly called for a total halt of extractive activities in the area.

According to these groups, unregulated gold extraction is polluting the Carrao River and its tributaries within the park, threatening the safety and livelihood of the Indigenous communities that have lived there for centuries.