Punto Fijo, November 8th, 2012 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – More than sixty members of the Venezuelan indigenous ethnic group Yukpa arrived to the capital city on Wednesday to demand a resolution to ongoing violence and aggression from cattle ranchers on indigenous lands near the Colombian border.
As many as seven members of the Yukpa indigenous group have been murdered so far this year at the hands of cattle ranchers in the western state of Zulia, and many more have been injured as a result of an ongoing land dispute.
Yukpa leaders and activists made the long trip to Caracas this week to bring attention to the problem, and to denounce the inaction on the part of government officials to resolve the dispute.
“We came [to Caracas] to see if the state institutions will listen to us,” said Yukpa spokesperson Zenaida Romero. “We have serious problems with cattle ranchers and their hired gunmen, and also with the military.”
The most recent violence has centered around the issue of land rights that were granted to the Yukpa by the federal government in December of last year, but which have not been honored by cattle ranchers in the region.
“The title to the land has been granted to us, but it hasn’t been enforced because the cattle ranchers still live on our territory, and there are still massacres occurring in our community,” said Romero who herself still carries a bullet from a recent attack.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez approved 250 million bolivars (US$58 million) last year for the nationalization of the lands that were to be recovered by the Yukpa in their native region of Perijá, yet the cattle ranchers that occupy the lands claim they never received payment and have refused to leave.
“If the government wants to annex territory to the different ethnic groups, they will have to expropriate them and purchase them, but that hasn’t happened,” said Miguel Rincón, vice-president of the local cattlemen’s association.
This has led to the occupation by the Yukpa people of several of the farms that are allegedly on land that legally belongs to them, to which cattle ranchers have responded with violence.
Last month several Yukpa were injured when they were forcibly removed from a farm they had occupied. The government responded by ordering the arrest and detention of Yukpa leader Sabino Romero, and compensation to the ranchers for damages done to their property. No investigation was launched against those who shot at the Yukpa.
In addition, several violent acts in recent months have resulted in the shooting deaths of several members of the Yukpa community, crimes that have remained unpunished.
For this reason, Yukpa leaders are demanding justice for the attacks.
“We want a direct dialogue with the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples and we want [the minister] Aloha Nuñez to pay attention to us,” said Romero.
The northwestern region along the border with Colombia has long been dominated by cattle ranching ever since these lands were taken over by farmers from surrounding areas. The indigenous people were forcibly removed and the Yukpa have seen their territory dwindle as cattle ranchers continue to encroach on their lands.
“They outright massacred us, and now we live in the higher parts, in the mountains, and the landowners have taken all the flat land from us,” said Romero.
Venezuela’s indigenous peoples have gained important rights under the Chavez government, including article 119 of the Constitution that grants them the right to the lands that they “ancestrally and traditionally occupy,” however some have claimed that the government’s development plans conflict with indigenous land claims.
The Perijá region is one of the country’s largest producers of milk and beef products, in addition to certain mining interests.