Venezuela Commemorates Indigenous Resistance with Abya-Yala Congress, Demonstrations

Commemorations in Venezuela continued today in the context of October 12th, Indigenous Resistance Day. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, over 400 representatives of indigenous peoples gathered for the 4th Abya-Yala Great Nation Congress of Anti-Imperialist Indigenous Peoples. On Wednesday, demonstrations were held in solidarity with the Yukpa people and imprisoned Yukpa Chief Sabino Romero.


On Tuesday, Chávez used his Twitter account to declare, “I say with Perón [Argentine political figure]: In the 21st century we will find ourselves united or dominated. 500 years later we are united in the name of our original peoples. We will win!”

Anti-Imperialist Indigenous Congress

On Monday and Tuesday, Venezuela hosted the 4th Abya-Yala Great Nation Congress of Anti-Imperialist Indigenous Peoples for the fourth consecutive year.

More than 400 representatives of indigenous peoples from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay converged in Elorza, Apure state, to discuss social, political, cultural and economic issues that affect their communities as well as strategies for greater integration among indigenous people.

During the event, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nicia Maldonado asserted that Venezuela’s indigenous people are committed to the consolidation of a socialist, anti-imperialist, and “indo-american” homeland.

“Ten years ago our indigenous communities were destined for death, but now they are regarded as the human beings that they are, with all the conditions necessary to contribute to the economic, social and intellectual development of the country,” stated the minister.

Over the past 11 years, the Chavez government has provided numerous educational, health, and cultural programs to indigenous communities, and established three elected indigenous representatives to the National Assembly.

The Venezuelan Constitution includes a section on indigenous rights that obligates the state to grant indigenous people “collective ownership” of their ancestral lands, recognize indigenous cultural, health, economic practices, and consult with indigenous communities before exploiting natural resources on their lands.

As part of ongoing Venezuela-Cuba cooperation efforts, agroecological trainings are underway within indigenous communities in Venezuela that focus on increasing agro-biodiversity and community-based decision making relating to food production.

The trainings are supported by 17 Cuban advisors. 1,506 indigenous people have advanced their agroecological studies within their communities while an additional 126 have studied agroecology in Cuba in partnership with Cuba’s National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP).

Venezuela has officially been commemorating Indigenous Resistance Day since 2002, when a law decree signed by President Hugo Chávez officially changed the name of the holiday from Discovery of America Day.

In Spain, October 12 is currently celebrated as National Day, having been changed from Day of Hispanidad in 1987. In the United States, the date remains a federal holiday known simply as Columbus Day, while social movement activists and organizations including the American Indian Movement (AIM) maintain their demand for a change similar to that of Venezuela’s.

Protest against Incarceration of Yukpa Chief

In the state of Trujillo and in Caracas, demonstrations were held on Wednesday calling for an end to repression against indigenous people and for the immediate release of Yukpa Chief Sabino Romero from a prison in Trujillo state.

In October 2009, after the national government granted more than 40,000 hectares of land to Yukpa indigenous communities in northwestern Venezuela, Romero was detained by state authorities on the grounds he was responsible for a conflict between indigenous communities that resulted in the death of two people.

Days after Sabino’s arrest, Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST), Mexico’s Zapatistas (EZLN), Ecuador’s Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) and the international Via Campesina social movement denounced the repression faced by the Yukpa people struggling to recuperate their territories.

A public letter released Monday by the Committee for the Defense of the Human Rights of the Yukpa People affirmed that the continued detention of Romero “is nothing but an attempt to darken the path towards recovering territories that belong [to the Yukpas] for centuries.”

Romero was a lead organizer of the land occupations that helped pressure the national government into granting land titles to the Yukpa. He and his supporters argue that the government’s land demarcation decision did not accurately reflect ancestral Yukpa land, and was influenced by industrial mining interests.

For years, Sabino has suffered death threats and physical assaults by people tied to landowner interests, including an attack in which his father was killed.

A wide range of indigenous peoples, revolutionary organizations and environmentalist movements have spoken out on Romero’s behalf, calling for his case to be considered by local, indigenous authorities instead of state authorities, as is stipulated by point 3 of Article 133 of the Law of Indigenous Communities and Peoples.