Venezuela: Yukpa Indians, Chávez and land disputes

Flag by Guillermo EstevesCitizen media videos have been uploaded informing of the situation arising in Venezuela between the Yukpa Indians of the Perijá Mountains, landowners and President Chávez. This dispute over land limits is 30 years in the making, when military forces displaced the Indigenous communities of the Yukpa by force and established landowners who have cattle ranches and have been working the lands ever since. The Yukpa Indians have attempted to reclaim the lands taken from them, and even the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez declared 10 years ago that the problems with land ownership in the Perijá Mountains should be resolved, but nothing was done to advance solutions.

Currently the Yukpa Indians have taken over the ranches, and the landowners who live off meat and dairy production are unable to continue their work. This situation has been made more difficult due to military presence in the area which has caused a siege state, where the Indigenous groups are not allowed to walk freely on their lands or out of them and journalists are blocked from going inside the area to report of Human Rights abuses such as the alleged hiring of Colombian hit-men who have been targeting entire communities and who beat to death a 109 year old indigenous elder. Finally the Yukpa broke through the communication blocks, have gotten through to the media and have reached the community of Machique on August 26th 2008, and Hugo Chávez has declared that these lands should be given back and the indigenous community's rights should be respected. In the collective blog Voces Urgentes (Urgent Voices), they pose several questions regarding the future of this situation and its resolution:

Ahora bien ¿Por qué el cerco se rompe solo cuando Chávez se pronuncia? ¿Qué tuvo que pasar para que Chávez se enterara? ¿La represión, agresión y vulneración de los hermanos yukpa todo este tiempo no era suficiente? ¿Cuál ha sido la actuación de las autoridades ante las sucesivas demandas de los indígenas Yukpa? ¿Por qué la ministra del Poder Popular para los Asuntos Indígenas, Nicia Maldonado, recomendó a los Yukpa respetar la propiedad privada y hacer turismo en una zona aislada y árida? ¿Quiénes y con cuáles criterios se realizará el proceso de demarcación de las tierras indígenas?

So now, why is the blockage only broken when Chávez has spoken? What happened to clue Chavez into what was happening? The repression, aggression and veneration of the Yukpa brothers all through this time weren’t enough? What have been the actions of the authorities when faced with the constant demands of the Yukpa Indians? Why is the Popular Power for Indigenous Affairs minister, Nicia Maldonado, recommending that the Yukpa should respect private property and live of tourism in an isolated and arid area? By whom and with which criteria will the demarcation of indigenous lands take place?

The following video uploaded by coritoj is only one of dozens documenting the plight of this community and how it is just becoming known to the general public. In the video, they relate how one of the landowners told them that he could basically do what he wanted since every authority had been bribed already, and that he wasn't going to go to jail even if the went up to the President himself, because he had money to pay to get out:

This other video by ProyectoSuri shows a humanitarian caravan led by the ANMCLA organization trying to pass into Yukpa territory to deliver food and medication to the indigenous community, but they are blocked by military officers. Nevertheless, the same army that didn’t allow them to pass was perfectly willing to let a truck loaded with food for pigs to pass. The community organizations managed to convince the truck driver that it was unfair and unconstitutional to deliver food to animals when food for humans wasn't being let through, and he is shown to take the truck back from the picket line. Later in the video, the members of the Yukpa arrive at the border of the siege area and state that no army should control indigenous communities, but that they should be lead by community leaders chosen by them, and they should be able to invite people into their territories. However, the humanitarian caravan wasn't allowed to pass and deliver the food and medicines due to the army's intransigence on this point, several of them were injured, and 3 were arrested. Two days later, the president recognized the Yukpa Indian's rights to reclaim their lands.

Dozens of other videos on the subject can be viewed here. (Venezuelan Flag image by Guillermo Esteves)

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