Venezuela environment groups say they are barred from joining oil spill cleanup

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan environmental groups say the authorities have barred them from participating in the cleanup of an oil spill that has contaminated pristine beaches and mangroves, as the government continues to provide few details on the spill's cause or impact.

The country's opposition-run congress says the oil came from the El Palito refinery, and this week said it opened an investigation into the spill that has contaminated parts of a national park in the northwest state of Falcon.

The environment ministry last week said cleanup had begun, but has not said how much crude has been spilled nor where it came from.

South Caribbean Foundation, an environmental non-profit, said it was surprised that national parks regulator Inparques had prevented its members from entering Morrocoy National Park to see the impact of the spill.

"Impeding the work of professionals and activists from regional non-profits ... further worsens the situation," the South Caribbean Foundation wrote in a statement.

Morrocoy National Park is famous for its crystalline blue waters and a network of keys that are surrounded by coral reefs and also serve as breeding grounds for marine turtles.

The information ministry and Inparques did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Biologist and environmental activist Esmeralda Mujica told Reuters that several of her colleagues have been prevented from entering the area of the park since the start of August.

Legislators say the spill took place at the El Palito refinery in late July.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Wallis)