By EWAN ROBERTSON – VENEZUELANALYSIS.COM
Mérida, October 13th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – This past Wednesday, the Venezuelan government returned over 15,800 hectares of ancestral lands to the indigenous Yukpa people, as the country celebrated “Indigenous Resistance Day” with public events and marches across the country.
Designated by Franklin D Roosevelt as “Columbus Day” in 1937, the 12th of October is the date that Christopher Columbus first “discovered” the Americas. The anniversary was re-named “Day of Indigenous Resistance” by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2002 to commemorate the beginning of the indigenous struggle against European invasion and colonisation.
The ancestral lands were officially returned to the Yukpa people in a great assembly in the Sierra de Perijá in the North-Western state of Zulia. Venezuelan Vice-president Elias Jaua led the ceremony, declaring it to be “an act of social justice attached to our constitution” which repaid what is owed to those who “for years maintained control over these lands”.
“Five hundred years ago there was forced displacement of indigenous communities; there were five hundred years of humiliation by the violence of the colonizers,” continued the Vice-president.
Nicia Maldonado, Venezuelan Minister for Indigenous Peoples, also highlighted the connection between Venezuela’s constitution and the policy of returning the lands, stating: “today we are making justice and revolution. The concepts of our constitution are being made reality.” Maldonado also added that the recovered lands “should be converted into productive space…to reconstruct the form of living of the ancestral communes of the indigenous peoples”.
In 2008, president Chávez intervened in a violent land dispute between the owners of the large-landed estates in the area and the Yukpa people, who claimed that the landlords had illegally acquired historical Yukpa territory. As a result of the intervention, over 40,000 hectares were granted to the indigenous community.
“There should be no doubt: Between the large estate owners and the Indians, this government is with the Indians” said Chávez at the time.
Despite this, some Yukpa, Barí and Japrenía peoples opposed the move, claiming that it left much of the estates intact. According to comments made by Vice-president Jaua yesterday, the latest land grants should contain everything required for the Yupka to maintain their culture and traditions.
As well as land granted to the Yukpa, the government also confirmed that indigenous groups in Zulia, Anzoátegui and Monagas will also receive land titles on December 15th this year. A further set of land-titles will also be granted to indigenous groups in April 2012.
National Day of Celebration
In other celebrations, Venezuelan indigenous groups, activists and government representatives held public events and marches throughout the country. In the city of Bolivar, over 400 representatives of the Pemón, Kariña and Warao peoples marched to highlight the continued struggle for the preservation of indigenous culture and to celebrate the gains for indigenous rights obtained under the Bolivarian Revolution.
Cecilio Pérez, regional coordinator of the Chief Guaicaipuro Indigenous Front, stated “the indigenous people thank the indigenous rights consecrated in the constitution. We want to thank the Organic Law of Indigenous Peoples and Communities (LOPCI), the communal councils, and the Law of Land and Habitat for the Demarcation of Indigenous Territory”.
Bernardo Aray of the Kariña people also highlighted that there is still much to be done in the area of indigenous cultural preservation and land rights.
“The struggle for the demarcation of ancestral land continues” he stated.
In Caracas, the National Assembly passed an accord which recognizes the historic heroism of indigenous leaders and celebrates indigenous constitutional rights. The accord also calls for the universal adoption of October 12th as a Day of “Global Indigenous Resistance”.
Since coming to power in 1999, the Venezuelan government has made significant attempts to empower indigenous citizens and to promote indigenous culture through various missions and legislation. A series of indigenous rights are also set out in the 1999 Venezuelan constitution, which guarantees the country’s indigenous population three representatives in the National Assembly.
Earlier this year, the Venezuelan government announced the construction of new socialist communes for inhabitation by indigenous communities and other measures relating to Venezuela’s indigenous population, such as efforts to integrate indigenous groups into the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission launched in May.