Resource Wars on Venezuela’s Indigenous Frontier
from El Mundo/Libertario, Caracas
The information glut regarding the February referendum on Venezuela’s Constitutional amendment has hidden serious events happening in the state of Zulia, in particular the Sierra de Perijá along the Colombian border—pointing to a dangerous situation for the indigenous Yukpa people due to their attempt to recover their land.
Landowners in the cattle business have been taking lands that they know are the historical property of the Wayúu, Barí and Yukpa peoples. The latter took action in 2008, occupying several haciendas to recover what was theirs; the state reacted by promising to pay the ranchers the value of the occupied lands as a way to compromise.
However, these payments haven’t been made and due to the decrease in oil revenues it is doubtful they will be made. Because of that, the ranchers have been applying pressure on the natives to expel them from the recovered haciendas. There are armed thugs everywhere and the Bolivarian National Guard (militarized police under the command of the central government) have attacked and intimidated those who support the indigenous cause—a situation that also affects those who perform transportation services into the area, who are now afraid to do so.
Yukpa chief Sabino Romero Izarra is in danger as threats rain on his head, and we fear action by the paid assassins who a couple of years ago assassinated his 100-year-old father. Human rights organizations such as Homo et Natura—led by well known anthropologist Lusbi Portillo—and the Network to Support Peace and Justice have mobilized. They have filed complained in the courts—but have obtained a very timid measure of protection because the DISIP (Intelligence and Prevention Services Directorate, the political police) are in charge of enforcement, and only show up occasionally in the area.
The state has acted as accomplice in this terrible situation. Its position is no accident in an area where you can find Colombian FARC and ELN guerrillas, those displaced from Colombia who also impinge on the rights of the natives to their lands, and finally transnational mining companies from Ireland, Brazil, Spain and Chile who have the government’s blessing to extract coal in the most unhealthful and environmentally harmful way.
It is necessary to make this problem known to national and international public opinion to put a stop to the escalation by the landowners who, in their position of strength and with the complicity of the state, seek to overwhelm the weaker sector. We likewise denounce the fact that indigenous rights and environmental activists are prohibited from traveling in the area due to the de facto state of siege imposed by the “revolutionary and Bolivarian” armed forces.
While officialdom and the electoral opposition alike tear their clothes in a stupid campaign where one can only hear slogans for or against the indefinite presidential re-election with no in-depth discussion and shrouded in the cheapest legalese, these depressing events are taking place—revealing the praxis of an authoritarian political model attenuated by oil revenue in which militarism runs rampant.
These are expressions of state terrorism with a clear trajectory that goes from the “disappearances” in the operational theaters of the ’60s by graduates of the School of the Americas, to the Caracazo genocide [1989 riots in Caracas, brutally put down by the security forces of President Carlos Andrés Pérez] and the massacres of Yumare, Cantaura, El Amparo, the “Amparitos” Llano Alto and Paragua [villages near the Colombian border in Apure state, where peasants and fishermen were killed by the army in 1988]. It is now happening in the Sierra de Perijá and the victims are the people trampled on by multinational corporations, ranchers and displaced people. It all happens during the mandate of a government and a legislature that presumably rules to the benefit of native people.
This article was originally published Jan. 30 in El Mundo, a Caracas daily. It was written by the editorial collective of the Venezuelan anarchist journal El Libertario, who provided an English translation. It was slightly edited by World War 4 Report.
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Reprinted by World War 4 Report, March 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution