Venezuelean tribes block transmission line construction

Brazilian authorities said Venezuelan indigenous tribes are delaying an electric power partnership between Venezuela and Brazil that represents one of South America’s major efforts at energy integration.

Up to now, not a single watt has crossed the border between Venezuela and Brazil due to resistance by Indians who have blocked construction of transmission towers through their territories.

According to an agreement inked 2 years ago between the two countries, Brazil’s mines and energy ministry agreed to buy 200 Mw/year between now and 2020 from the 10,000 Mw Guri hydroelectric plant in Venezuela’s center-east region. The electricity is intended to supply Brazil’s northern state of Roraima and attract private investments to one of the country’s poorer region which suffers from frequent blackouts.

Venezuela’s state-owned Electrificaci௿½n del Caron௿½A (Edelca) still has not completed 40 km of the 500 km system. The work was not finished because three Venezuelan indigenous tribes claim that by crossing their lands the transmission lines would severely damage the environment. The Venezuelan government reported the Indians have destroyed equipment and even kidnapped some Edelca’s workers.

Centrais El௿½icas Norte do Brasil SA (Eletronorte), a state-owned Brazilian power company, fulfilled its contractual obligations by installing towers and transmission lines along 200 km between Boa Vista, Roraima’s state capital, and to the Venezuelan border near Santa Elena de Uaireu, Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Roraima’s state government is paying $60 million/year to maintain the transmission lines installed on the Brazilian side. No reimbursement will be available for these expenses. Although the contract includes fines for delays, there is a clause that cancels the fines if environmental protection agencies of one of the countries do not authorize the project.

The Venezuelan government says it will only grant environmental licenses after reaching an agreement with the Indians. Thus, it is avoiding the fines.

On the Brazilian side the negotiation with the Indians was easier. Eletronorte paid $2.5 million to Funai, the National Indian Foundation to remove and compensate around 100 white settlers who owned rural properties in the area.

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