Sierra de Perijá

Forgotten voices in Venezuela crisis

Things are approaching a crisis point in the long battle of wills between Venezuela and the White House. Juan Guaidó, president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore himself in as the country's "interim president" before a crowd of tens (by some accounts, hundreds) of thousands of supporters in Caracas on Jan. 23. Perhaps in an abortive move to pre-empt this, the SEBIN political police detained him on his way to a rally three days earlier, but later released him without charge. At his auto-inauguration, he declared President Nicolás Maduro's re-election last May illegitimate, and himself the only legitimate executive authority in the country. Donald Trump immediately announced that he is recognizing Guaidó—quickly joined by Canada and several Latin American governments.

FARC demobilization advances —amid dissent

FARC rebels on Aug. 22 announced formation of a Monitoring and Verification Team to oversee demobilization of their fighters under Colombia's peace process. With an office in Bogotá, it is to be administrated by a tri-partite commission formed by the FARC, the Colombian government and the United Nations. (TeleSur, Aug. 22) But former president Alvaro Uribe, now leader of the right-wing opposition, continues to harshly criticize the peace process. In an Aug. 18 address at Sergio Arboleda University in Bogotá, he noted the chaos in neighboring Venezuela and warned that the FARC would bring "castro-chavismso" to Colombia if allowed to participate in the political process. (PanAm Post, Aug. 23)

Venezuela: new attack on indigenous leader

In the latest in a string of violent incidents related to land disputes in Venezuela's western Sierra de Perijá, on June 30 Yukpa indigenous leader Carmen "Anita" Fernández Romero and her son Luis Adolfo were wounded in an attack near her village of Kuse. According to reports, some 50 men armed with rifles and machetes set upon an encampment Fernández Romero and her family had established on the local hacienda El Carmen, which she asserts is on usurped Yukpa traditional lands. Members of the army and Boliviarian National Guard reportedly werre on hand, but did not intervene as the men began beating Fernández Romero and her son. Just four days earlier, another of Fernández Romero's sons, Cristóbal Fernández Fernández, 19, was killed—reportedly in a beating by National Guard troops. He was the third of Fernández Romero's sons to have met a violent death in the past five years. Fernández Romero is currently hospitalized, recovering from her injuries. She has been under an official order of protection since July 2012 following threats against her, but local environmental group Sociedad Homo Et Natura, which supports the Yukpa land struggle, asserts that it is going unenforced. (Entorno Inteligente, La Guarura, Aporrea, July 1; Aporrea, June 24)

Venezuela: Yukpa killed in land confrontation

On Aug. 4, Venezuelan army troops and agents of the CICPC special investigative police intervened in a confrontation between indigenous Yukpa residents of Chaktapa village in the restive Sierra de Perijá and local ranchers over disputed lands, leaving one community member dead. The killed man was initially identified as the son of Yukpa cacique (traditional leader) Sabino Romero, whose own murder earlier this year remains unsolved. Subsequent reports based on interviews with Chaktapa residents denied this, but cited villagers as blaming Ganaderos de Machiques (GADEMA), the local ranchers' association, for provokong the conflict. Several village residents have been killed in confrontations with ranchers encoraching on traditional Yukpa lands in recent years. (Apporea, Aug. 4)

Venezuela: indigenous leader assassinated

Sabino Romero, cacique (traditional chief) of the Yukpa indigenous people in Venezuela's Sierra de Perijá, was assassinated on the night of March 3, when unknown gunmen ambushed his vehicle on a road in Machiques municipality, Zulia state, as he was traveling to a community meeting at the village of Chaktapa. Supporters immediately said he had been targeted for opposing extractive industries, particularly coal mining, in the Yukpa territory. Said human rights group PROVEA in a statement: "Sabino Romero had suffered a constant ciminalization by the authorities due to his mobilization in defense of the rights of the Yukpa people. He suffered privation of his liberty for 18 months, and was permanently harassed by police functionaries."

Venezuela: indigenous protest for land rights

A delegation of some 60 members of the Yukpa indigenous group from Venezuela's western Sierra de Perijá held a rally in Caracas Nov. 7, protesting violent aggression against their communities by cattle ranchers who covet their traditional lands near the Colombian border. Community leaders charged that seven Yukpa men have been have been killed this year at the hands of ranchers or their sicarios (hired assassins) in the municipality of Machiques, Zulia state. Ironically, the violence escalted after the government granted Yukpa communities title to their traditional lands last December. Ranchers claim they never received the 250 million bolivars ($58 million) pledged them by the government as compensation for contested lands. "The title to the land has been granted to us, but it hasn't been enforced because the cattle ranchers still live on our territory, and there are still massacres occurring in our community," said Yukpa leader Zenaida Romero, who still carries a bullet from a recent attack. The Yukpa are demanding direct talks with Minister of Indigenous Peoples Aloha Nuñez  to resolve the issue.

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