Venezuela Offers Support to U.S. Indigenous Communities

Venezuelan President Chavez has offered to bring low-cost gasoline to the poor in the U.S., including American Indian tribal communities, along with free eye surgery for a certain number economically disadvantaged U.S. residents.

By Brenda Norrell - Indian Country Today
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Seattle, September 20, 2005 .- While setting new global standards for the recognition of indigenous rights in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has made an offer to bring low-cost gasoline to the poor in the United States, including American Indian tribal communities.

Chavez has also offered free eye surgery for a certain number economically disadvantaged U.S. residents.

"There is an offer on the table for low-cost heating oil and gasoline for poor communities in the United States," said Robert Free Galvan, who is contacting tribes in the United States with Venezuela's offer.

"Hopefully, Indian tribes and Native entities will take advantage of this opportunity to become stronger in the global community."

Galvan's comments came after he attended the 16th World Festival of Students and Youth in Caracas, Venezuela, Aug. 7 - 15, which was attended by 40,000 people.

"I was amazed at 12-cent-a-gallon gas," said Galvan, adding that he fell in love with the beauty of the green mountains and blue ocean waters in Venezuela.

Chavez has already sent hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil to the region hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Venezuela owns CITGO Petroleum Corp., which has eight refineries in the United States, and has set aside up to 10 percent of its refined oil products to be sold directly to organized poor communities, and institutions in the United States without intermediaries.

Galvan said Chavez and his revolution for indigenous rights gained the respect of indigenous people at the world gathering in Venezuela. During the opening procession of nations, Chavez gave a "thumbs up" to the banner displaying the words "Leonard Peltier."

"Chavez acknowledged indigenous people by having them open and bless the gathering," Galvin said.

The first speaker was a Native woman, one of three indigenous representatives in the Venezuela Assembly (or Congress), who gave testimony to advances for indigenous people.

"Chavez hugged all the indigenous leaders in front of the world and gave deeds of territory to the tribes," Galvan said of the communal land titles given to six communities of the Karina, which is one of Venezuela's 28 indigenous peoples.

Chavez' Mission Guaicaipuro lists 15 more indigenous groups to receive their ancestral land before the end of 2006. Galvan pointed out that earlier Chavez called for a halt to the celebration of Columbus Day and replaced it with "Indigenous Resistance Day."

The U.S. government, Galvan said, has reacted to Chavez' leadership and far-sweeping reforms for indigenous rights with racism.

"The United States government is very racist. Chavez is indigenous and part black, and is in control of one of the world's largest oil reserves," Galvan said.

Galvan said he decided to attend the world gathering after hearing of the movement for "fair trade," as opposed to "free trade," which is igniting the indigenous rights movement in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, where the majority of the population is indigenous.

The economic alliance promotes fair trade as an alternative to the World Trade Organization, North American Free Trade Agreement or Central American Free Trade Agreement, he said.

"These trade agreements seem to favor the rich and powerful corporations. Chavez has spent billions of oil dollars on education, feeding and housing the people of his country in order to rebuild the situation in his government which was inherited from the previous government that had channeled much of the country's resources into a few hands," Galvan said.

During the world gathering, the contingent from the United States did not give Galvan the opportunity to present his PowerPoint presentation of indigenous issues at the world gathering or allow him to have a table of information.

The struggles of the Western Shoshone to protect their aboriginal lands in what is now called Nevada and the Gwich'in to protect the Arctic from oil exploration were two of the issues he wanted to present to the world community.

Galvan said Fourth World Rising, an Intra-American collective of indigenous peoples from the Lakota, Maya and Warm Springs nations, was also prevented by the U.S. organizers from presenting their information concerning the United Nations Draft Declaration of Indigenous Rights.

However, Galvan was able to show his presentation to a few Venezuelan government representatives, who were upset at the missed opportunity to present the information to the world gathering. They offered Galvan the opportunity to present it on Venezuelan national television, but his flight departure prevented it.

Finally, the Venezuelan government contacted Galvan at home in Seattle and set in motion a new effort to bring low-cost gasoline to Indian tribal members and cultural exchanges between indigenous of the north and south.

"The government of Venezuela contacted me by e-mails and phone calls for my opinion and feedback of the gathering in August. They heard my effort to bring indigenous struggles to be shared with the world was prevented by the organizers from the U.S. delegation to the conference.

"They were upset that it was not presented."

Galvan said he suggested Venezuela provide low-cost gasoline to poor U.S. communities while he was in Venezuela in August. "I suggested this to them while I was in Caracas. Maybe they were already thinking of this, or maybe I ignited the idea. I like to think the latter."

Galvan pointed out that Venezuela has already distinguished itself in the international arena of indigenous human rights. Venezuela has accelerated the process for indigenous tribes to be recognized by the government, while in the United States the strategy is delay.

Galvan also pointed out that Venezuela recognizes indigenous representatives regardless of how the community chooses to select their representatives, including those selected with traditional methods.

Venezuela's Bolivarian Constitution establishes indigenous rights of territory, intercultural and bilingual education and local political representation. The Constitution adopted in 1999 states the county's indigenous peoples have right to their ancestral territories.

Chavez' efforts have not gone unnoticed.

In August, the United States, Christian evangelist Pat Robertson called on the United States to assassinate Chavez.

Galvan said, "Pat Robertson represents fundamentalists which are at the same level as al-Qaida in terms of fanatical self righteousness. Indigenous people have known terrorism from self righteous fanatics."

Chavez told Ted Koppel on ABC's "Nightline" in September that he has proof that the United States is planning to invade Venezuela. Code-named "Balboa," Chavez said the U.S. recently carried out training maneuvers in Curacao, Venezuela. Chavez warned if the U.S. carries out this plan it would result in a 100-year war. Also, Chavez pointed out Venezuela sends 1.5 million barrels of oil to the U.S. each day.

Self-described as a revolutionary, Chavez said, "I've been in revolt for years against ignominy, against injustice, against inequality, against immorality, against the exploitation of human beings."

Native communities and entities wanting to learn more about Venezuela's offer of low-cost gasoline and heating oil can e-mail Robert Free Galvan at robtfree earthlink.net.

This news article published by Indian Country Today, and was slighlty updated by Venezuelanalysis.com to add Venezuela's recent offer of free eye surgery for U.S. poor.

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