Caracas, Venezuela, June 10, 2006—Hundreds of representatives from various indigenous Venezuelan ethnicities marched in Caracas on Wednesday in the “First National March of the Indigenous People.”
The march was organized by the National Indigenous Council of Venezuela (CONIVE) and was held in support of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, against US military operations in Caribbean waters, in support of Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), and for the unity of their communities in Venezuela. According to CONIVE, the march was the first of many indigenous mobilizations which will be “heating up the streets” over the next 6 months.
CONIVE was born in 1989 and is composed of 60 organizations and representatives from 32 indigenous ethnic groups including the Warao, Yucpa, Wayuu, Timotes, Panare, Yanomami and Yecuana, among others.
“Here we are raising our hands for the first time to say, enough… The indigenous peoples in Venezuela are united, we are united because it’s the only way to advance, it’s the only road to speak loudly and I believe that that’s what we are doing right now,” declared CONIVE President and National Assembly representative, Nicia Maldonado at the beginning of the march. “We wanted to express this to the President of the Republic, that the indigenous people are going to give the first shout and [the presidential election] on December 3rd, isn’t just any old thing, it is about saving ourselves, about dignity for the indigenous people.”The march was also joined by indigenous from Peru and Ecuador.
“The withdrawal from CAN makes us very happy, because, first off, it helps us to protect our traditional knowledge. That space was there to sell off the traditional knowledge and the natural resources, without even consulting the organizations… we also say that we support Chavez’ politics in terms of the G-3. We are happy that you have gone, you have to analyze all of the spaces of power, because for us they are tentacles of imperialism,” said Maldonado.
“We are also saying to the government of Mr. Bush, take all your military that you have in the Caribbean and get out, because here, we want peace, we want to live, because we are in search of our greatness, our spirituality and the flourishing of our liberty.” She said, “we don’t want war, we want peace, because the liberation is here in Venezuela. You can’t call President Chavez an imperialist, because you are the imperialists and when you speak about President Chavez, you are speaking about the indigenous people.”
As the march wound it’s way towards the Presidential Palace of Miraflores, it paused at the Attorney General’s office, the National Assembly and the Vice-President’s office, to deliver three respective documents declaring the unity of Venezuela’s indigenous, offering their support to President Chavez, condemning the recent elimination by the supreme court (TSJ) of a constitutional article against the violence against women and calling for increased consultation with all of Venezuela’s indigenous.
“We are calling for the construction and the institution of the Organic Law of Political Participation of the Indigenous People which says that they must consult the indigenous people… and ask that they consult all of the people, not just a small part,” said Maldonado.
Maldonado further expressed that she believes Venezuela’s indigenous can offer 300,000 votes towards Chavez’ goal of 10 million in this December’s presidential elections.
“What we wanted to express in the documents is that here are the indigenous peoples, and they can count on our support,” she said.
According to Representative Maldonado, who represents approximately 30,000 indigenous peoples from 25 communities in the southern Venezuelan states of Apure and Amazonia, there are approximately 800,000 indigenous in Venezuela.
Chapter 8 of the 2001 Venezuelan Constitution explicitly protects the rights of Venezuela’s indigenous peoples:
“The state recognizes the existence of the indigenous people and communities, their social, political and economic organization, their cultures, uses and customs, languages and religions, as well as their habitat, original rights to the land that their ancestors traditionally occupied and that is necessary for their development and in order to guarantee their way of life.” Reads Article 119.
But even with protection under the Constitution, many indigenous participants in the march expressed grave problems. “We are losing our culture. Without culture, we can’t live, so we are trying to revive our indigenous culture, so that it is re-born again,” said Valerio Hernandez, one of 300 indigenous fishermen, farmers and artisans from the Macuro Delta who traveled to Caracas for the march. “Economics, transportation and health are also difficult, because the doctors don’t arrive to where we are. And we don’t have the means of communication or transportation. We don’t have anything and that’s how we have been, well, stepped on. But now we want to shed light on this…”
While overwhelmingly supporting President Chavez, CONIVE also lent their support to the indigenous people struggling against the exploration of coal on their “sacred” lands in the state of Zulia, which has become a controversial issue in Venezuela over the last few years.
“For the Yucpa people, that land is sacred,” said Maldonado “and the President has said, that if you can’t save the land, the coal will stay under ground… I think that’s important. We are defending and accompanying our Yucpa brothers… the companies can’t just come and kick them off… our president has said that it’s a question of dialoging between the people and the government, the coal companies and the international organizations…
We are convinced that through the dialogue with the private companies we will come to a solution, but they need to respect us, and they can’t disrespect our sacred sites.”
As the sun set on Wednesday evening most of the participants in the march were filing back onto their buses and preparing to head home, but Maldonado expressed that this is just the beginning and that they are planning numerous demonstrations for June, July and beyond.
“Right now we are going to incorporate in to the events. On June 22, we are going to unite the masses with mobilizations in all of the states.” Said Maldonado. “After August, everything will be headed towards 10 million [votes].”
Interestingly, just beyond the Vice-President’s Office, the road over Llaguno Bridge (the infamous site of the April 11, 2002 events) towards the presidential palace, Miraflores, was blocked by an armored vehicle and several anti-riot police dressed in storm-trooper gear.
An official with another group of armored police blocking a side street stated that it was not the indigenous march but the students that they were prepared for. The official said that the students had “promised violence” and vowed to go to Miraflores.
The Venezuelan daily, Ultimas Noticias, reported on Thursday, that students from the Central Venezuelan University were on the streets last Wednesday, protesting against “the persecution” of University of the Andes student Nixon Moreno, who has been accused of instigating the recent violence in Merida, and for which a Venezuelan court has issued an arrest warrant. No conflicts between the military guards and the students were reported.