Venezuela: Terror in Perija

*The following article was originally published on Jan. 30 2009 in El Mundo, a Caracas daily. Written by a member of the editorial collective of El Libertario , it calls attention to what we fear is a bloody attack against these original inhabitants of the western part of the country.

The information glut regarding the referendum on the Constitutional Amendment (to take place on 2/15/09) has hidden serious events happening in the state of Zulia, in particular the Sierra of Perija. It is the dangerous situation the Yukpa people are living due to their attempt to recover their land.

Landowners in the cattle business have been taking these lands that they know are the historical property of the Wayuu, Bari and Yukpa peoples. The latter acted in 2008 occupying several haciendas to recover what was theirs; the state reacted by promising to pay the ranchers the value of the improvements as a way to compromise.

However, these payments haven’t been made and due to the decrease in oil revenues it is doubtful they will be made. Because of that the ranchers have been applying pressure on the natives to expel them from the recovered haciendas. There are armed thugs everywhere and the Bolivarian National Guard (militarized police under the command of the central government) have attacked and intimidated those who support the indigenous cause, a situation that also affects those who perform transportation services who are now afraid to do so.

Yukpa chief Sabino Romero Izarra is in danger as threats rain on his head and we fear action by the paid assassins who a couple of years ago assassinated his centenary father. Human rights organizations such as Homo et Natura –led by well known anthropologist Lusbi Portillo – and the Network to Support Peace and Justice have mobilized. They have complained to the tribunals, where they obtained a very timid measure of protection because the Disip (political police) in charge of enforcing it, only shows up occasionally in the area.

Faced with this terrible situation, the state has acted as accomplice. Their position is no accident in an area where you can find Colombian FARC and ELN guerrillas, those displaced from Colombia who also impinge on the rights of the natives to their lands and to boot, mining transnational companies from Ireland, Brazil, Spain and Chile who have the government blessing to extract coal in the most unhealthful and environmentally harmful way.

It is necessary to make this problem known to national and international public opinion to put a stop to the escalation by the landowners who, in their position of strength and with the complicity of the state seek to overwhelm the weaker sector. We likewise denounce the fact that indigenous rights and environmental activists are prohibited from traveling in the area due to the de facto state of siege imposed by the “revolutionary and Bolivarian” armed forces.

While the officialdom and the electoral opposition tear their clothes in a stupid campaign where one can only hear slogans for or against the indefinite presidential re-election with no in-depth discussion and shrouded in the cheapest legalese, these depressing events are taking place revealing the praxis of an authoritarian political model attenuated by oil revenue in which militarism runs rampant.

These are expressions of state terrorism with a clear trajectory that goes from the disappearances in the operational theaters of the sixties by graduates of the School of the Americas, to the Caracazo genocide and the massacres of Yumare, Cantaura, El Amparo, the “Amparitos” Llano Alto and Paragua. It is now happening in Sierra Perija and the victims are the people trampled on by multinational corporations, ranchers and displaced people. It all happens during the mandate of a government and a legislature that presumably benefit native people.


Translation: Luis Prat