Dressed in tuxedos and designer fashion, a group of high rollers set off in helicopters for a private party amidst the glories of nature, and people were furious when they found out.
The birthday party took place at a sacred site for Indigenous groups in Venezuela, and sparked outrage not only for the damage caused to the ecosystem, but also for the exorbitant display of wealth in a country reeling from economic crisis.
The birthday boy, a businessman named Rafael Oliveros, organized for his guests to fly to the top of the Kusari mountain in the Canaima National Park in Venezuela’s Amazon region. The area is famed for its flat-topped mountains, like Kusari, which are considered sacred spaces by local Indigenous groups such as the Pemon.
“This was a violation of Mother Earth because these are sacred, untouchable mountains that we’ve traditionally watched over, conserved and respected, just like our ancestors,” Nazario Rosi, a Pemon elder, told Reuters. Rosi explained that Pemon culture forbids people to climb to the Kusari summit where the party took place. He also said that the area was damaged after being raked before the festivities.
Photos of the Feb. 4 bash began circulating after they were posted by the event’s guests, and backlash on social media quickly mounted. Venezuela Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced Thursday that the government will investigate the damage caused to Kusari as “a result of a ‘party’ organized in that place by a company and a group of people.”
A flat-topped table mountain like Kusari is known as a “tepuy” in the Indigenous Pemon language. The dozens of tepuy mountains that dot the Canaima National Park were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The Canaima National Park is also the home of the world-famous Angel Falls: the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall.
Venezuelan environmental group SOS Orinoco released a statement condemning the event and said that “it is a clearly prohibited activity.” The group went on to explain that it violated at least two rules that protected areas like Kusari.
Although many of the original party photos and videos were later deleted, SOS Orinoco’s statement detailed the excess they exposed. The group said that about twenty people arrived in nine helicopters for an overnight stay at the summit of Kusari. The guests each had individual tents and were given personalized pajamas with their names embroidered on them.
One of the few remaining videos still online taken at the summit comes from Osmel Sousa, a former president of the Miss Venezuela Organization who is known as the Czar of Beauty for his success in coaching beauty queens. He posted a video showing the tents that the guests would be staying in.
Oliveros has a background in tourism. He reportedly served as a representative of the tourism sector in Venezuela’s National Council of Productive Economy. He also works as the director of Camp Canaima, a lodge in the park, and last year signed a commercial agreement with a travel company to host all-inclusive vacations at the lodge.
“An event of this nature, which is also private and has no public significance, is not only a violation of the rule of law, but also an affront and a slap in the face to the dignity and honor of the entire Venezuelan people,” said SOS Orinco. “Especially at such a tragic moment that the country is going through in the midst of a complex humanitarian crisis recognized by all international organizations.”
For the past dozen years, Venezuela has suffered through an economic collapse as hyperinflation has made the country’s currency worthless. Economic mismanagement has led to intense shortages of food and other basic goods and poverty has soared across the country, once one of Latin America’s most wealthy. Millions of Venezuelans have fled the country.
But for Oliveros and his friends, none of that seemed to matter as they sipped champagne under the stars on top of a mountain.