Caracas, May 4, 2010 (venezuelanalysis.com) – The 5th Zulia State judge Erika Carroz suspended the trial against Yukpa Chief Sabino Romero and two other indigenous leaders who are facing charges of murder after the jury failed to appear for a second time yesterday.
The judge ordered the suspension of the trial pending the outcome of an appeal by Romero’s defence lawyer, Ricardo Colmenares, to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) to shift the case to the jurisdiction of indigenous authorities.
The judge also ordered an inspection of the physical state of the prisoners and their conditions of custody “within a period not exceeding 96 hours” to determine a request by the defence to transfer them from the Machiques military garrison where they are being held, to special detention site for indigenous defendants at the El Tocuco, Pilot Centre.
The charges arise out of a confrontation between a group of indigenous people from the Chaktapa community led by Romero, and another group of indigenous people from Guamo Pamocha on October 13 last year. Romero’s son in law, Ever Garcia, and a young, pregnant Yukpa woman were shot dead during the incident. Romero himself received three bullet wounds.
The two other indigenous men, still in prison, are Alexander Fernandez of the Wayuu people, and Olegario Romero, chief of the Yukpa Guamo Pamocha community.
At the time Venezuelan Justice Minister Tarek El-Aissami alleged the dispute was over stolen cattle and the Attorney General’s office and the Zulia state court charged the men of murder, assault, and conspiring between members of the community.
However, Romero, who among others, led a series of land occupations in 2008 calling for the return of the Yukpa’s ancestral lands in accordance with the Constitution and indigenous rights laws passed by the government of President Hugo Chavez, denied the allegations and said the incident – which occurred the day after the National Land Institute (INTI) granted land to Yukpa indigenous communities – was a result of divisions among the Yukpa over the government’s land grant offer.
Rather than granting a contiguous block of 130,000 hectares of ancestral lands as the Yukpa had originally called for, the INTI granted 40,000 hectares of land in various tracts interspersed with large cattle ranching estates and concessions to multi-national coal mining companies.
The suspension of the trial occurred in the midst of a growing campaign for the indigenous leaders to be tried according to indigenous laws and customs. Under the current jurisdiction if the jury fails to show five times, the trial will be carried out in the presence of only the judge, prosecutors and defence attorneys.
Last Wednesday National Assembly indigenous affairs committee president, Noheli Pocaterra joined the call for the Supreme Court (TSJ) to grant an injunction allowing for a solution within indigenous laws and customs as established in the constitution.
“I call on the president of the TSJ, Luisa Estela Morales, to accept the constitutional protection that allows the Yukpa brothers to be tried according to indigenous laws,” the indigenous deputy urged.
“Article 260 of the Constitution provides that where problems arise between indigenous peoples and in indigenous territory it should be addressed by them,” Pocaterra added.