The Venezuelan government returned more than 15,800 hectares of ancestral lands to the indigenous Yukpa people on October 12, as Venezuela celebrated “Indigenous Resistance Day” with public events and marches across the country.
Originally designated by then-US president Franklin Roosevelt as “Columbus Day” in 1937, October 12 is the date that Christopher Columbus first “discovered” the Americas.
The anniversary was re-named “Day of Indigenous Resistance” by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2002 to commemorate indigenous struggle against European invasion and colonisation.
The ancestral lands were officially returned to the Yukpa people in a great assembly in the Sierra de Perija in the North-Western state of Zulia. Venezuelan vice-president Elias Jaua led the ceremony, declaring it to be “an act of social justice attached to our constitution” that repaid what is owed to those who “for years maintained control over these lands”.
“Five hundred years ago there was forced displacement of indigenous communities; there were 500 years of humiliation by the violence of the colonisers,” Jaua said.
Venezuelan Minister for Indigenous Peoples Nicia Maldonado highlighted the connection between Venezuela’s constitution and the policy of returning the lands. Maldonado said: “Today we are making justice and revolution. The concepts of our constitution are being made reality.”
Maldonado said the recovered lands “should be converted into productive space ... to reconstruct the form of living of the ancestral communes of the indigenous peoples”.
In 2008, Chavez intervened in a violent land dispute between the owners of the large landed estates in the area and the Yukpa people, who claimed the landlords had illegally acquired historical Yukpa territory.
As a result of the intervention, more than 40,000 hectares were granted to the indigenous community.
At the time, Chavez said: “There should be no doubt: Between the large estate owners and the Indians, this government is with the Indians.”
Despite this, some Yukpa, Bari and Japrenia peoples opposed the move, claiming that it left much of the estates intact. On October 12, Jaua said the latest land grants should contain everything required for the Yukpa to maintain their culture and traditions.
The government also confirmed that indigenous groups in Zulia, Anzoategui and Monagas will also receive land titles on December 15. A further set of land titles will also be granted to indigenous groups in April next year.
In other celebrations, Venezuelan indigenous groups, activists and government representatives held public events and marches throughout the country.
In the city of Bolivar, more than 400 representatives of the Pemon, Karina and Warao peoples marched to highlight the continued struggle for the preservation of indigenous culture. The gathering also celebrated the gains for indigenous rights obtained through the Bolivarian revolution that is being led by the Chavez government.
Cecilio Perez, regional coordinator of the Chief Guaicaipuro Indigenous Front, said: “The indigenous people thank the indigenous rights consecrated in the constitution. We want to thank the Organic Law of Indigenous Peoples and Communities (LOPCI), the communal councils, and the Law of Land and Habitat for the Demarcation of Indigenous Territory.”
Bernardo Aray of the Karina people highlighted the fact that there is still much to be done in the area of indigenous cultural preservation and land rights.
“The struggle for the demarcation of ancestral land continues," he said.
In Caracas, the National Assembly passed an accord that recognises the historic heroism of indigenous leaders and celebrates indigenous constitutional rights.
The accord also calls for the universal adoption of October 12 as a “Day of Global Indigenous Resistance".
Since coming to power in 1999, the Chavez government has tried to empower indigenous citizens and promote indigenous culture through a range of social missions and legislation.
A series of rights for indigenous peoples are also set out in the 1999 Venezuelan constitution, which guarantees the country’s indigenous population three representatives in the National Assembly.
Earlier this year, the Venezuelan government announced the building of new socialist communes for indigenous communities and other measures relating to Venezuela’s indigenous population, such as efforts to integrate indigenous groups into the Great Venezuelan Housing Mission launched in May.
[Reprinted from www.venezuelanalysis.com .]