As part of its program of 21st Century socialism the Venezuelan Government, under President Hugo Chavez, is recognising the enormous cultural contribution of Indigenous peoples and is working to assure their place in the future of national social, political, and economic life. The Venezuelan Government acknowledges the injustices faced by Indigenous communities and an effort is now being made to repay the historical debt owed to them.
26 different Indigenous groups exist in Venezuela today, around 535,000 people, or about 2.1% of the national population and are known in their own languages as the Wayúu, Warao, Pemón, Añú, Yanomami, Jivi, Piaroa, Kariña, Pumé, Yecuana, Yukpa, Eñepá, Kurripakao, Barí, Piapoko, Baré, Baniva, Puinave, Yeral, Jodi, Kariná, Warekena, Yarabana, Sapé, Wanai, and Uruak.
In 2002 the Venezuelan Government changed the name of Columbus Day to
DAY OF INDIGENOUS RESISTANCE
LEGAL GUARANTEES FOR INDIGENOUS RIGHTS
Chapter 8 of the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution establishes a framework for Indigenous rights. It begins with Article 119, which reads:
The State recognizes the existence of native peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organization, their cultures, practices and customs, languages and religions, as well as their habitat and original rights to the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy, and which are necessary to develop and guarantee their way of life.
Constitutional guarantees regarding Indigenous rights also include:
- the use of natural resources
- respect for ethnic and cultural identity
- the exercise of traditional economic practices
- protection of intellectual property
- the right to political participation.
One element of the constitution guarantees Indigenous peoples "the right to their own education, and an education system of an intercultural and bilingual nature, taking into account their special social and cultural characteristics, values and traditions."
Creating opportunities for Indigenous participation in democracy in Venezuela has been a priority of the current government. The 1999 Constitution requires that the National Assembly, Venezuela's lawmaking body, must include Indigenous representatives. Like the other 164 members of the National Assembly, three Indigenous representatives are elected though a popular vote among their constituencies. Indigenous community leaders helped draft the section of the constitution on indigenous rights.
Communal councils provide a model for local government that is energising citizen participation in Venezuela. These organizations allow community members to identify and solve problems in their own communities, and get financial support from the government to do so. In indigenous areas, the communal councils provide a new format for organization around the principles of democratic citizenship.
GOVERNMENT-FUNDED SOCIAL PROGRAMS
- Mission Guaicaipuro, named for an Indigenous leader who resisted Spanish Colonial rule, was launched on October 12, 2003. The mission is a government-funded program that seeks to restore communal land titles and human rights to Venezuela's numerous indigenous communities, in addition to defending those rights against resource and financial speculation by the dominant culture.
- Mission Identity is a massive citizenship and voter registration campaign which has given millions of Venezuelans national ID cards, including almost 274,000 Indigenous persons. With the granting of ID cards, they were able to exercise full citizenship rights – state benefits, constitutional protections – for the first time. This is just one way in which the state is attempting to undo past injustices that have kept Indigenous populations outside of democratic structures.
As globalisation has come to affect all cultures throughout the world, Venezuela has emerged as a leader in the effort to make Indigenous rights a truly international cause.
Indigenous organising at the national level in Venezuela began in 1989, when the National Indigenous Council (CONIVE) was founded to protect traditional lands and defend Indigenous sovereignty against unbridled industrial and commercial development. CONIVE now incorporates 60 organizations and representatives from 32 Indigenous groups in Venezuela. It has begun to work with other native groups in South America to discuss advocacy strategies and create international pressure to preserve indigenous lands and rights.
Since 2003, Venezuela has hosted an annual International Encounter of Resistance and Solidarity of Indigenous and Peasant Peoples. Moreover, in August of 2007, Venezuela hosted the First International Meeting of Anti-Imperialist Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, in which delegates from 45 different countries participated.
"THE FIRST PRESIDENT EVER TO DO THIS"
Under President Chavez, Venezuela has seen unprecedented collaboration between the state and Indigenous communities. For example, the National Telecommunications Commission is training young people from 10 different ethnic groups in the Amazon region and other rural areas to produce community media. Infrastructure was provided in October of 2007 to enable radio broadcasts in native languages on 8 new radio stations that will be networked with the public Venezuelan National Radio. This and other initiatives are helping to promote indigenous culture.
In June 2006, CONIVE's "First National March of the Indigenous People" expressed solidarity with the policies of President Chavez. The orientation of the Chavez government, which is focused around giving value to history and the principles of equality, justice, and solidarity with all peoples, is a boast to the struggle for Indigenous rights in Venezuela and around the world. Noeli Pocaterra, an indigenous rights activist from the Wayúu community and a member of the Venezuelan National Assembly has said, “Simon Bolivar, the first liberator, gave back the lands, the best lands, to the original inhabitants. But President Chavez is the first president to ever do this to dispossessed Indigenous.”
To find out more on how Venezuela is changing its society for the better and to support their revolution contact the:
Australia Venezuela Solidarity Network
Ph) (07) 3831 2644 or 0401 586 923