Collectives backing the campaign to bring the assassins of murdered indigenous Yukpa leader, Sabino Romero, to justice have announced that they will officially petititon the judge assigned to the case for a maximum sentence of 30 years for the accused, Angel Antonio Romero Bracho, if he is convicted. Bracho, who goes by the alias of Manguera, is currently on trial for the murder of Sabino, which took place on March 3rd 2013.
“We are demanding justice, and that the government resolve the situation which is creating this problem, which is the return of the land to our indigenous peoples,” said Leonardo Dominguez, spokesperson from the National Front for Land Struggle, at a press conference in Caracas on Monday prior to Bracho´s second hearing.
According to the movements, Manguera is reponsible for shooting Sabino from a motorbike as he travelled alongside his wife Lucia Romero on the night of his death. The Yukpa leader died from the impact whilst his wife was seriously injured. He was one of the most prominent figures in the indigenous struggle to reclaim Yukpa ancestral lands from wealthy cattle ranchers in the Sierra de Perija region, who have resisted government attempts to reallocate the land to indigenous communitites. The ranchers claim that they have been insufficiently compensated for the land, whilst indigenous movements and the government maintain that the territory was illegally acquired after indigenous communities were forcibly displaced.
Speaking from the poorly attended press conference, movement spokespeople criticised Venezuelan state media for its lack of coverage on the case. They say huge interests are involved in the trial and claim that Sabino´s murder was financed by several wealthy ranch owners in the region.
“The ranch owners do not want to hand over the land as has been demanded by Human Rights experts, ecologists and indigenous activists,” stated Lusby Portillo, spokesperson for the Zulia based organisation, Homo et Natura.
In August last year five members of the local police force were jailed for a period of 7 years for their role in aiding and abetting the murder. The officers include Giovanny Delgado, former bodyguard to the previous Mayor of Machique, who has also been implicated in the murder by movements. The police are said to have admitted being financed by ranch owners in the region during their trial, whilst movements claim that at least 11 cattle ranchers are involved, including the President of the Machique Rancher´s Federation.
“I want justice for Sabino, he has been dead for over a year and I have 5 children who are going hungry… Bracho must go to prison because he is killing us, indigenous peoples… We are fighting for land. That land belongs to us, not the cattle ranchers,” said Sabino’s widow, Lucia Martinez de Romero.
The event was also attended by Ana Maria Fernandez from the Women Fighters for Land Collective, who reported that three of her brothers had also been assassinated by hired killers because of their relationship to Sabino and their political activism. One of her brothers was a key witness in the Yukpa leader’s assassination.
“They might try and kill me after making this video… they are practically trying to eliminate Sabino’s whole family,” she said.
Fernandez also reported that her mother, Carmen Fernandez, a Yukpa chief and principal ally of Sabino, had received threatening phonecalls in which she was told that she was being watched. She said that many Yukpa feared that Bracho would kill more indigenous political activists if he were not jailed.
Over the past 3 years, 9 Yukpa leaders have been assassinated in the country whilst 13 have been injured. Indigenous rights activist and member of the National Front for Land Struggle, Tibisay Maldonado, told Venezuelanalysis that the struggle to reclaim the Yukpa´s ancestral lands is becoming ever more complex, with indigenous groups reporting increasing encroachment of Colombian paramilitaries, drugs traffickers and members of guerrilla organizations such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) on to their territory.
Whilst the trial against Manguera continues, movements say there is no attempt by authorities to bring the ranchers financing the hired killers to justice.
For a video of Sabino´s widow, Lucia Martinez de Romero, singing Sabino´s rallying song, please click on the following link –