Mérida, March 18th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Tuesday a Venezuelan court in the state of Trujillo ordered the conditional release of indigenous Yukpa leaders Olegario and Sabino Romero, as well as Wayú leader Alexander Fernández. The three were released on bail 20 months after being detained for thier involvement in a violent dispute between indigenous groups that left two people dead and four others injured.
The incident in question occurred on 13 October 2009, one day after Venezuela’s national government granted Yukpa communities over 40,000 hectares of land. Sabino, one of several Yukpa leaders who opposed the government land grant initiative, called it a “divisive” measure and accused “capitalists” of being behind his imprisonment.
Upon his release, Sabino, who received three bullet wounds in the disputed incident, expressed his gratitude to “all those who helped me obtain my freedom.”
“The capitalists imprisoned us. They don’t respect the Law of Indigenous Communities or the Constitution, and that’s why I’ve been in jail, because I want the Constitution to be implemented in Venezuela,” he said.
As a condition of their release, the men are prohibited from leaving Venezuela while the Trujillo-based court case completes its deliberations. In addition, they must request the court’s permission if they intend to travel beyond the states of Trujillo or Zulia, and are obligated to check-in with a local National Guard station every 15 days.
Trujillo circuit court judge Antonio Moreno Matheus granted the release after the men’s lawyers provided evidence that their clients had received death threats and violent intimidation from other prisoners. In addition, the lawyers provided several financially-sound “backers” who assume legal responsibility if the men do meet the conditions of their release.
In April of last year defense lawyer Ricardo Colmenares filed an appeal before the Venezuelan Supreme Court on behalf of the three men, arguing that the Law of Indigenous Communities stipulates indigenous people be tried by their own legitimate authorities.
In mid 2010, Sabino Romero Martinez, second chief of the Yukpa’s Chaktapa community, participated in a protest outside of the Venezuelan Supreme Court demanding the indigenous justice system be respect.
“We have our culture, our justice system. We can judge and punish those guilty of damage to the community without our chiefs having to be prisoners under the Creole law,” said Romero Martinez in an interview with AFP.