Venezuela: Indigenous resistance hero honoured

October 18, 2015

Statue of Guaicaipuro. Photo: Correo del Orinoco.

A statue of Caribe indigenous resistance hero Guaicaipuro was unveiled on October 12 by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to commemorate the Day of Indigenous Resistance.

Guaicaipuro, an indigenous chief of the Caribes, led one of the most successful resistance campaigns against invading Spanish colonial forces throughout the 1560s and is revered by many of Venezuela's grassroots movements.

The monument of the indigenous chief features him brandishing a mallet and spear. It will stand in Plaza Venezuela, Caracas, occupying the spot where a statue of Columbus was previously toppled by anti-colonial activists on October 12, 2004.

The date was previously known as “Race Day” in Venezuela to mark the arrival of European colonisers to the American continent. It was renamed Day of Indigenous Resistance by Venezuela's revolutionary Bolivarian government in 2002.

During the unveiling ceremony, Maduro slammed countries that continued to celebrate October 12 as “Columbus Day”. He said that 80 million indigenous people are estimated to have been wiped out by the European invasion of the Americas. The invasion also led to the international slave trade and the kidnapping of millions of Africans into bondage.

“Does anyone doubt today the crime that was the indigenous and African holocaust of the 16th, 17th and 18th century?

“In Europe they celebrate October 12 like it was Spain Day,” Maduro said. “What is Spain celebrating? It's like celebrating the fact that Hitler exterminated 6 million Jews.”

Nicolas Maduro speaks at the statue unveiling. Photo: Correo del Orinoco.

Social movements greeted Maduro's move with praise and called for a citizens' congregation in the monument's surroundings to celebrate.

The Bolivarian government has pursued a number of pro-indigenous policies since coming to power in 1999. These include creating an indigenous university and legislating for three indigenous representatives in the country's parliament.

Nonetheless, it received heavy criticism from researchers on this year's Day of Indigenous Resistance for having failed to deliver on promises in the 1999 Bolivarian Constitution.

In a letter published on the left-wing website Aporrea, The Indigenous Issues Work Group (GTAI) from the University of Merida accused the government of failing to stop crimes against indigenous peoples at the hands of illegal mining and “irregular groups”.

“As if that weren't enough, the poverty indicators are increasing in the heart of indigenous communities,” reads the letter.

The group accused “a handful of bureaucrats” of appropriating indigenous populations' historic demands and urged the government to go beyond the symbolic recognition of indigenous rights and develop adequate laws, as well as to legally demarcate indigenous territory.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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