Venezuelan Amazon Threatened


Venezuelan Amazon Threatened by Resolution to Allow Mining and Logging

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The World Rainforest Movement reports on serious attempts in Amazonas State, Venezuela, to revoke two decrees which presently ban logging and mining. The European Parliament has passed a resolution condemning this major opening up of the area to industrial resource extraction. Tragically, the Yanomami Indians of the EC- financed Upper Orinoco- Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area of tropical rainforest in the world, would be put at risk. This item was posted in econet's rainfor.general conference.

PRESS RELEASE                                 25 October 1996

In recent weeks the Venezuelan President, Rafael Caldera, under heavy pressure from the mining lobby in Caracas and Puerto Ayacucho, the capital of the State of Amazonas, has indicated that he plans to revoke two decrees which presently ban logging and mining in the State. Local indigenous and conservation organisations in Venezuela, with the support of many congressmen and deputies, have protested against this move noting that it would have a devastating effect on the environment and indigenous peoples of the State, including the Yanomami Indians of the EC- financed Upper Orinoco-Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area of tropical rainforest in the world.

According to FAO figures, Venezuela already suffers one of the highest rates of deforestation in the tropics, with an annual loss of 600,000 ha.. In Estado Bolivar, mining is devastating the lands of the Kapon and Pemon Indians, leading to widespread forest loss and mercury pollution. Earlier this year, several of the main marketed fish from the huge Guri reservoir had to be banned from human consumption because of the high levels of mercury contamination. Venezuela's Indians are among the least protected indigenous peoples in South America. Official figures show that 72% of Indian communities lack any form of legal title to their lands. Even these rights are often ignored in the handing out of logging and mining licences.

Fearing that these problems might spread south, the European Parliament adopted an emergency resolution in full session in Strasbourg yesterday afternoon, calling on Venezuela not to revoke the decrees.

Saskia Ozinga, Coordinator of the EU Forest Programme, an affiliate of the World Rainforest Movement, said today:

The fact that the European Parliament adopted this urgent resolution in plenary shows how deeply concerned the European Parliament is with the current trend to open up southern Venezuela to unregulated mining and logging. We welcome the resolution, which echoes clearly the concerns of many indigenous peoples and of Venezuela's foremost environmentalists.

The text follows.

Text of Resolution of the European Parliament adopted 24 October 1996:

The European Parliament,

- recalling its previous resolutions on the Amazon forest,

- whereas the Venezuelan Government is proposing to revoke two decrees, 269 and 2552, which prohibit mining and logging in the State of Amazonas,

- whereas the European Commission is presently financing an ECU 6.4 million project in the same State which is being carried out jointly with the Venezuelan Government to develop and implement a management plan for conservation and sustainable development of the Upper Orinoco-Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve - currently the largest protected area of rainforest in the tropics,

A. Concerned that the premature opening of the State of Amazonas to mining and logging is causing serious environmental problems,

B. Very concerned that this illegal mining is violating indigenous rights and is likely to cause serious health problems resulting in high mortality and serious epidemics among the Yanomami and other indigenous peoples both within the Biosphere Reserve and more widely,

C. Noting that illegal mining, both by Venezuelan miners and Brazilian 'garimpeiros', is already a serious threat to the Biosphere Reserve and the environment of the State in general and that local government institutions appear unable to control it,

D. Noting that illegal logging and cross-border trade in timbers is already a problem on the middle Orinoco and that controlling it appears to be beyond the capacity of local government institutions,

E. Noting that the existing legal framework in Venezuela allows several competing government agencies to grant mining concessions and that, in neighbouring Bolivar State this has resulted in permits being given to mine protected areas causing serious disputes and obliging the Procuradoria General de la Republica Attorney-General's Office to intervene;

F. Considering therefore that a premature opening of the State of Amazonas to mining and logging is likely to escalate beyond government control bringing serious health and environmental problems to Venezuelan citizens, and will jeopardise the success of the Biosphere Reserve;

1. Urges the Venezuelan Government not to revoke the decrees and instead to maintain its present prudent and widely acclaimed policy of conservation and community development in the State of Amazonas;

2. Appeals to the Venezuelan Government to reform its policy towards indigenous peoples in conformity with Article 11 of Decree 3.235 of 3 August 1983 which guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples to the lands they traditionally occupy;

3. Directs the European Commission to raise these matters with the Venezuelan government, as the viability of a major EC- funded project in the region is at risk;

4. Requests the World Bank to raise these matters with the Venezuelan Government in its forthcoming mission to the country commencing on 23 October 1996.

5. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Government of Venezuela and the World Bank.

Text ends.

For further information contact: WRM (UK office), 8 Chapel Row, Chadlington, OX7 3NA, England Tel:01608 676691 Fax: +44 1608 676743 email:

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