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News: Indigenous and Afro-Venezuelans | Land Reform | Law and Justice

Venezuelan Government to Hold Assembly With Yukpa Indigenous Group

Punto Fijo, November 17th, 2012 ( – The Venezuelan government has announced that it will hold an assembly with the Yukpa indigenous group in order to resolve the ongoing conflict over land rights in the western region of Perijá.

After more than sixty members of the Yukpa group travelled to Caracas last week to protest the lack of a resolution to the conflict, the Minister of Indigenous Peoples Aloha Nuñez announced that the assembly would be held in Machiques de Perijá near the site of the conflict “with the presence of all of the Yukpa people.”

Indigenous leaders and activists have criticized the lack of response on the part of the government with regards to the payment to cattle ranchers for lands that were to be transferred to the Yukpa. Government officials have yet to give information about the funds that were approved for this purpose in December of 2011.

“Since December 15th, when President Hugo Chavez announced it, we were expecting the government to transfer 250 million bolivars (US$58 million) for payment to the first 25 cattle ranches, but to this day we haven’t seen any movement,” said Yukpa chief Jesús Peñaranda.

The lack of a resolution on these disputed lands has led to a continuation of the conflict with 7 Yukpa killed and several injured so far this year. This has led some to speculate that there is a conflict of interests within the government.

“The government ministries are manipulating us,” said indigenous leader Sabino Romero during an interview with state channel VTV. “The problem is that there is a political division within the ministries.”

Under the Chavez government Venezuela’s indigenous people for the first time have a government ministry dedicated exclusively to indigenous affairs, yet the Yukpa leaders claim the ministry has not been responsive to their demands, and have asked that the ministry be reorganized.

“The president isn’t at fault for this, but we know who is. It’s the ministers,” said Yukpa activist Jackelina Mémndez.

Farmers and cattle ranchers from the Perijá region have also denounced inaction on the part of the government. Various cattle ranchers held a protest in Machiques last week, claiming they had been forced to abandon their lands without payment.

“We’ve been waiting for a year for them to solve the problem of demarcation of the land so that we can put an end to our suffering,” said Isnelda Medina, leader of a local communal council.

Yet indigenous leaders say that the main problem in the region is the violence on the part of cattle ranchers who do not want to give up their lands. They accuse them of hiring contract killers to murder Yukpa leaders.

“Machiques is full of hit men and paramilitaries. There is no law in Perijá. Not one cattle rancher is in jail,” said Romero, whose 97-year-old father was murdered in 2008, allegedly by hired assassins.

“It’s the landowners who are trying to punish us. We want the president to take a hard line against the landowners who are using their money to kill us with hit men,” he said.

Though the proposal for an assembly with the Yukpa was well received, indigenous leaders insisted that President Chavez take a closer look at the problem.

No specific date was given for when the government will hold the assembly with the Yukpa community.

Published on Nov 17th 2012 at 9.25pm