Unwelcome explorers

OIL exploration by foreign companies in the Orinoco river's delta has invited criticism from environmentalists and native Indians. The natives are concerned that these activities will ' damage their fishing and hunting grounds. Foreign oil companies, including Enron, British Petroleum (BP) and Conoco, have tied up with the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to extract oil in the Pedernales estuary, where, rare black-headed parakeets fly and river dolphins play.

The Warao Indians were not consulted before the oil companies moved in. Luis Padron, an environment ministry official admits, "We did not consider them to the extent we should have." In a bid to de se the growing tension and to improve its image, PDVSA and its partners are planning to launch a comprehensive development project in the region. The us $1 million aid that BP paid to the town of Pedernales has brought no substantial benefits for the Indians. Health and educational services are non-existent and few locals are employed by the companies because of poor training.