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Amuay Journal: ‘A Bomb on the Doorstep’: Venezuela Fishermen Fight an Oil Giant

Mr. Sánchez began his environmental crusade in 1996 when he filed his first formal complaint with the Venezuelan authorities after a series of spills in the bay.

At the time, he said, the Amuay fishing lobby was more unified, with two fishing associations representing the town’s several hundred fishermen. He was president of one, the Association of Artisanal Fishermen of Amuay Bay. The other represented fishermen who primarily worked in the Caribbean Sea.

But about a decade ago, his association splintered, with most members breaking away to join two new fishing groups, part of a national plan by then-President Hugo Chávez to create a system of community councils to oversee local development projects. The government has supplied the two fishing councils with boats, motors and nets.

Mr. Sánchez kept his association alive, even though it remained outside the government funding stream, because it provided an independent platform from which to agitate against Pdvsa.

Area of Detail

Caribbean Sea

But he also found himself increasingly going it alone. The government, he contended, bought the submission of the two fishermen’s councils with equipment, even while Pdvsa continued to neglect the underlying problems in the plant that were causing the contamination.

“The people remain quiet,” concurred Adrian Cosi, 47, a member of one of the two fishermen’s councils and a former member of Mr. Sanchez’s association. “The fisherman never says things the way they should be said.”

Other residents, however, say that while they respect Mr. Sanchez’s single-minded focus, they’ve chosen their battles more carefully. Some even accuse him of exaggerating the environmental impacts to create more noise — and bring more attention to himself.

His cousin, Francisco, 57, who serves as a spokesman for one of the two fishermen’s councils, said Esteban was “the tip of the spear” in the village’s efforts to protect the environment.

Source: NYT > World

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