After more than 100 people demonstrated outside the German Embassy in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas on Thursday, tensions have flared up once again between the two countries over the rightful owner of a sacred rock. Many of the protestors were indigenous Pemon people, who say the stone was stolen from them and want it returned from Berlin.
The so-called "Kueka Stone " was brought to the capital city some 15 years ago by German artist Wolfgang Kraker von Schwarzenfeld, who used the 35-ton boulder in his "Global Stone" project in the city's central Tiergarten park. But the Venezuelans say that the rock, considered to be so holy that humans aren't permitted to touch it, was taken without their permission in 1997. They want it returned to their community in the Gran Sabana tropical grassland region, which is located largely within the Cainama National Park.
"It's not just a stone. It's part of our culture and they must return it," Pemon representative Melchor Flores told an Associated Press reporter during the protest.
Georg-Clemens Dick, the German ambassador to Caracas, appeared before protesters outside the embassy, expressing his respect for their demand and promising to discuss the matter with officials in Berlin. "Please accept that no one ever wanted to take something from you," he told demonstrators. "We have always considered the Kueka Stone to be a gift from Venezuela as part of a global peace network."
Although the sandstone rock in Berlin is one of five stones included in an outdoor artwork aimed at encouraging global peace, it has complicated relations between Venezuelan and German diplomats for some time now. This week the parliament in Caracas set a proposal in motion for bringing the Kueka Stone back home. Parliamentarian Gladys Requena said on Tuesday that the stone had been illegally removed from Canaima National Park in southeast Venezuela.
'So Many Lies'
But artist von Schwarzenfeld disputes this. He describes "Global Stone" as a "worldwide peace project" on his website. He says his aim was to find two special rocks on each continent to sculpt, leaving one stone in its country of origin and bringing the second "sister" to Berlin. The five stones from five continents symbolize love (America), awakening (Europe), hope (Africa), forgiveness (Asia) and peace (Australia). According to the artist, they are arranged so that, once a year on June 21, light reflections create a link between the circle of stones.
Von Schwarzenfeld maintains that he had permission from Venezuelan officials to remove the Kueka Stone and that he has documentation that it was a gift to "the German people" that the Pemon Indians helped him select, AP reported. He also alleged that the dispute has been contrived by President Hugo Chavez's government to gain the Pemon people's support during the country's upcoming election.
"It is not jasper, it is not stolen, it is not a holy stone," von Schwarzenfeld told AP. "It's a pity it needed so many lies to make this conflict and that is why it is very important to get back to the truth."
According to Pemon legend, the Kueka Stone was part of a pair of rocks believed to have originated from a giant stone block split by lightening thousands of years ago. The two stones represent the legend of a love story between a Pemon man and a woman from another tribe. Their inter-tribal romance displeased the Pemon god Makunaima, and he turned them into stone. The two rocks now symbolize the tribe's grandmother and grandfather.
Protesters claim that the removal of the "grandmother" stone has unsettled the country's natural balance and caused deadly disasters.