Venezuela Grants Land to Indigenous Communities On Indigenous Resistance Day

Celebrating 517 years of indigenous
resistance to invasion and colonisation Venezuela marked Indigenous Resistance
Day on Monday with the granting of
title deeds to indigenous communities.

By Kiraz Janicke - Venezuelanalysis.com

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Indigenous Resistance Day in Caracas (Prensa YVKE Mundial)
Indigenous Resistance Day in Caracas (Prensa YVKE Mundial)
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Caracas,
October 13, 2009 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Celebrating 517 years of indigenous
resistance to invasion and colonisation Venezuela marked Indigenous Resistance
Day on Monday with a street march through the capital, Caracas, the granting of
title deeds to indigenous communities, and a special session of the National
Assembly.

Across the
Americas October 12 is widely celebrated as Columbus Day, the day in 1492 when
Christopher Columbus, representing the Spanish Crown, first arrived in the
Americas. In 2004 the Venezuelan government officially changed the name to
Indigenous Resistance Day.

In Caracas,
thousands of members of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's United Socialist
Party of Venezuela (PSUV), together with members of Venezuela's 44 indigenous
groups, marched to the National Pantheon, in order to celebrate achievements
for indigenous peoples under the Chavez government and claim their rights as
the original inhabitants of the country.

A special
session of the National Assembly then took place in the Pantheon, where the
remains of 16th Century Indigenous Cacique (Chief) Guaicaipuro lie
as well as those of Venezuelan independence leader Simon Bolivar, who fought
against Spanish colonialism.

Also during
a special ceremony in Zulia state, Venezuelan Interior Relations and Justice
Minister, Tarek el Aissami, handed over title deeds covering some 41,630
hectares of land to three Yukpa indigenous communities in the Sierra de Perija
National Park.

"Today we
join in this celebration of Indigenous Resistance Day, the day of the dignity
of the indigenous peoples of Latin America and particularly of the Bolivarian
and Revolutionary Venezuela," stressed the minister.

Yupka
community spokesperson Efrain Romero said, "It's historic to receive title to
the lands we inhabit," and added, "We reaffirm our fight for this revolution to
continue advancing (...) we reaffirm our support for President Hugo Chávez."

In recent
years the Sierra de Perija region has been the scenario of a fierce conflict
between large "landowners" and the indigenous communities who were forcibly
driven off their lands during the Perez Jimenez dictatorship in the 1940s.

The
situation came to a head in July 2008 when Yukpa indigenous communities
occupied 14 large estates to demand legal title to their ancestral lands.
Estate owner Alejandro Vargas and four others, armed with guns and machetes,
responded by attempting to assassinate the Yukpa cacique (chief) Sabino Romero,
who was leading the occupations, and beat and killed Romero's elderly
109-year-old father Jose Manuel Romero.

Then on
August 6 hundreds of armed mercenaries, hired by large landowners, attacked the
indigenous communities.

At the time
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez slammed what he described as the "ambiguous
attitudes" of some government functionaries in dealing with the land
demarcation process and ordered an investigation into the violent attacks.

"There
should be no doubt: Between the large estate owners and the Indians, this
government is with the Indians" Chavez said.

During his
speech today El Aissami emphasised that the delivery of title deeds of land to
indigenous peoples is one of the policies promoted by the National Executive to
ensure comprehensive recognition of the ancestral territorial rights of
indigenous peoples.

Sergio
Rodríguez, a spokesperson for the Environment Ministry clarified that other
areas belonging to Yukpa communities are yet to be demarcated but said the
ministry, together with the indigenous communities and other agencies that
comprise the National Demarcation Commission, "will continue to work to resolve
the situation. Our goal is to provide land titles to those Yukpa sectors that
lack them by the end of the year."

However, another
dispute in the Sierra de Perija region between the Barí,
Yukpa, and Wayúu indigenous peoples resisting coal mining on their lands on the
one hand and the state-owned Corpozulia, still has not been fully resolved.

The
government is also expected to hand over title deeds covering 5,310 hectares to
the 366 strong Palital community, belonging to the Kari'ña ethnicity in the
state of Anzoategui.

Speaking at
the closing ceremony of the III Congress of the Great Abya Yala [the Americas]
Nation of Anti-Imperialist Indigenous Peoples from the South in the remote
Amazonas state, Minister for the President's Office, Luis Reyes Reyes, also granted
credits to representatives of indigenous communities to assist in agricultural
production.

Despite
many unresolved issues, indigenous peoples have made significant advances in
Venezuela over the last 10 years. The Bolivarian Constitution adopted in 1999,
through Art. 8 specifically emphasises recognition and respect for
indigenous land rights, culture, language, and customs.  According to the
constitution, the role of the Venezuelan state is to participate with
indigenous people in the demarcation of traditional land, guaranteeing the
right to collective ownership.  The state is also expected to promote
the cultural values of indigenous people.

Article 120
of the Constitution also states that exploitation of any natural resource is "subject
to prior information and consultation with the native communities concerned."

In 2003 the
government also initiated the Guaicaipuro Mission, a social program aimed at
the promotion and realization of indigenous rights as recognised in the
constitution.

Venezuela's indigenous people, who comprise
approximately 1.6% of the population, also have three indigenous
representatives in the National Assembly.