Survival International has received reports that indigenous communities of the Sierra de Perijá in Venezuela are being threatened by Colombian rebels. Survival reports that members of the FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group, have been settling among Barí and Yukpa indigenous communities in the border area. The rebels bring in weapons and drugs, entice young people to their ranks, and squat on indigenous land.
Javier Armato, a Yukpa elder, says, “They have replaced our leaders as authority figures, and so who do the youths now want to emulate? The rebels.”
The threat of violence is always present, as the rebels demand food, clothing and medicines. An indigenous leader who wished to remain anonymous says, “They don’t pay for anything, it’s always for ‘solidarity.’ But you can’t say no to them. Nor can you complain about them to others, because someone might inform on you.”
The Venezuelan military are also targeting indigenous peoples. On Jan. 19, forty soldiers raided the Yukpa community of Yukpa Chaktapa, in the Sierra de Perijá. They pointed their guns at leader Sabinos Ramero Izarra and his family and accused them of being involved with Colombian guerrilla groups.
The Yukpa have been struggling for years to win their land back from cattle ranchers. According to the Venezuelan constitution, indigenous land title must be recognized, and the government must pay ranchers compensation for leaving indigenous territories.
Tired of waiting for lengthy and belated legal procedures, the Yukpa have re-occupied some of their ancestral lands. President Hugo Chávez has ordered the Minister of Environment to pay compensation to the ranchers, but his orders have so far been ignored.
From Survival International, Feb. 4