|Blanca Chancoso, Quechua representative from Ecuador.|
Photo credit: Venpres
President Hugo Chavez inaugurated the event saying, “today we will not give honors to Columbus, today we give honors to our indigenous peoples who heroically resisted being trampled upon. As Latin Americans we do not need to give honor nor tribute to Christopher Columbus. Christopher Columbus was the spear head of the invasion and the greatest genocide in recorded history of the people.”
Among the groups in attendance at the encounter were: Vía Campesina from Honduras; the Landless Movement (Movimiento Los Sin Tierras) from Brazil; the confederation of Indigenous Nationalities from Ecuador (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de Ecuador); the National Indigenous and Peasant Coordination from Guatemala (Coordinadora Nacional Indígena y Campesina); the Movement towards Socialism from Bolivia (Movimiento Al Socialismo); plus numerous Venezuelan organizations, such as the National Indian Council (Consejo Nacional Indio); the National Agrarian Coordination Ezequiel Zamora (Coordinadora Agraria Nacional Ezequiel Zamora) and the Bolivarian Forum of the Americas (Foro Bolivariano de las Américas).
The purpose of the meeting was to celebrate the unity of indigenous peoples and of peasants and to support the Venezuelan process and the agrarian transformation in the country.
Rafael Alegria, the leader of Via Campesina, from Honduras, said, “Venezuela is the only country of the Americas to have designated October 12th as the day of indigenous resistance and for this reason it deserves the recognition of all international indigenous organizations.” Also, Alegria added, Venezuela deserves recognition for being the only country in which there is a true agrarian revolution. Nearly 2 million hectares of land have been transferred to peasants in the past year.
One of Venezuela’s most important indigenous leaders, Noeli Pocaterra, who is also a representative in Venezuela’s National Assembly and the second vice-president of the assembly said that the Venezuelan process has given dignity back to the indigenous peoples of Venezuela. According to her, “We have been here on this land before anyone else and after many years we were made to feel like strangers in our own land. With out incorporation into the constitution we have achieved that the indigenous peoples are not seen as a folkloric issue or as stone statues (“convidados de piedra”).
President Chavez’ weekly television program, Alo Presidente, was devoted to the international encounter of indigenous peoples and campesinos. In the course of the program Chavez announced that he named a new presidential commission, Mision Guaicaipuro, which would guarantee the implementation of the rights of Venezuela’s indigenous peoples. Among other things, it would demarcate the land of the indigenous population. It will be headed by the minister of the environment, Ana Maria Osorio.
Chavez also read from the literacy campaign textbooks, Mision Robinson, written in several of the different indigenous languages – more than a million people have so far benefited from the program after only three months of its existence – also, the mission Sucre will prioritize the poor and indigenous populations, giving 100 thousand scholarships of $100 per month.
Finally, Chavez also announced the creation of indigenous “micro credit banks”. Isa Sierra of Fondo de Desarrollo Microfinanciero (Fondemi) followed up this proposal the next day, saying that 33 such banks would be created with 10,000 million bolivares by the end of the year. The loans they provide would be at an interest rate of 1%.
The encounter concluded with a statement in solidarity with the indigenous people of Bolivia, which also denounced the repression by the neoliberal government, in which more than 80 people have died in the last days.
Click here for the Statement of solidarity with the Bolivian people