---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 07 May 1999 17:05:28 +0900
From: James Albert <albert at nms.ac.jp>
To: "Neotrop. Ichthyol. Assoc." <nia-net at inpa.gov.br>
Subject: [nia-net] New Venezuelan Minister of Environment
First Indian Cabinet member in Venezuela stirs hopes and fears
May 1, 1999 Web posted at: 1:44 PM EDT (1744 GMT)
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Atala Uriana Pocaterra was in a dusty Indian
village when then President-elect Hugo Chavez frantically called her with
an offer that would make history: He wanted her to become the first Indian
to hold a Cabinet post in Venezuela.
Uriana's appointment as environment minister is stirring great hopes among
Venezuela's 500,000 Indians, who are trying to stop bulldozers and chain
saws from leveling Amazon rain forests in their traditional lands.
But some say the former university literature professor lacks the knowledge
for the job and will cave in to powerful gold mining and logging companies
that want to exploit the rich wilderness.
Chavez, a former military coup leader promising to shake up the system,
waited until the last moment to announce Uriana's appointment: the day
before he took office Feb. 2.
Uriana was rushed to Caracas from the western state of Zulia that is home
to 150,000 members of her tribe, the Wayuu. She then made a dazzling debut
at a nationally broadcast press conference by appearing in a traditional
"For the first time since Columbus arrived ... the Indian people are being
taken into account," Uriana said in an interview with The Associated Press.
To the wild applause of Indians and environmentalists, she declared during
her swearing in that she would help overturn a 1997 decree by former
President Rafael Caldera legalizing gold and diamond mining in the
pristine, Holland-sized Imataca rain forest in southeast Venezuela near
Imataca is thought to contain gold deposits worth billions of dollars that
have attracted explorers including Sir Walter Raleigh looking for the
legendary golden city of "El Dorado." But the modern-day Eden also is home
to red howler monkeys, bearded bluebells, pumas, neon-colored butterflies
and the world's largest eagle, the endangered harpy.
Caldera's government also started building a high-voltage power line
through Imataca and Canaima National Park, where the world's highest
waterfall, Angel Falls, cascades off one of the flat-topped mountains
For years Venezuela was a leader in environmental protection in Latin
America, creating the region's first environmental ministry in 1977 and
protecting a third of the country as national parks, monuments or reserves.
Before leaving office Caldera fired hundreds of ministry employees, leaving
Many environmental and Indian groups have remained steadfast in their
support for Uriana, who continues to wear colorful traditional dresses to
work and has traveled to Imataca and other endangered reserves.
But some say other leaders of Venezuela's 28 Indian tribes are more
qualified for the post and that Uriana is backing off her pledges to halt
mining and logging in Imataca.
"She doesn't have the appropriate background in the environment," said
Jorge Hinestroza, head of the Zulia Ecological Federation.
Jerrick Andre, a leader of Pemon Indians who are battling mining companies
in Imataca, said his tribe had never heard of Uriana and that she is being
pressured by businesses to leave their interests alone.
"We expect she will not fully support the regional cause of the indigenous
people," he said.
In her interview, Uriana acknowledged that she spoke too quickly about
Imataca, where some mining and logging will be permitted, but insisted her
concern for the environment had not flagged.
"The entire process of development has to take place in this country, but
it must be in harmony with the environment," she said.
She dismissed arguments that she is unqualified and added that many
ministers who were highly knowledgeable about the environment did little to
protect Venezuela's forests, snowcapped Andean mountains and Caribbean
Uriana is a member of Chavez's leftist Fifth Republic Movement and met him
through her brother, a National Guard colonel who became a close friend of
Chavez's while the new president was still an army paratrooper. Chavez
tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the government in 1992.
A former school teacher in Indian villages in Zulia, Uriana says she also
hopes to use her new post to address poverty, discrimination and
landlessness among Indians. Implementing bilingual education to preserve
Indian languages is another goal.
"She's a voice that can reach both the president and the ministers," said
Jose Poyo, head of Conive, a national Indian rights organization.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may
not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
James S. Albert Ph.D. <'}}})><
Nippon Medical School
Department of Anatomy Tel : +81 3-3822-2131
Sendagi 1-1-5, Bunkyo-ku Fax: +81 3-5685-6640
Tokyo 113-8602, Japan Email: albert at nms.ac.jp
( http://www.nms.ac.jp/NMS/KAIBOU2/albert.html )
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