RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The indigenous people of Gran Sabana and La Paragua have decided to reclaim their indigenous territories, which have been invaded by illegal armed groups using them for irregular mining activities.
The decision was recorded in the minutes of these indigenous communities’ Assembly of Captains and Councils of Elders, held last Sunday, February 21st.
Although the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela includes articles specifically directed to the protection of the indigenous people, their communities, and respect for their beliefs and customs, armed groups have been invading their sacred lands for some time.
“The Indigenous Communities of Bolivar state have decided to retake their lands demarcated as indigenous, and on Tuesday, February 23rd, they will confront the illegal mining armed groups, which are invading said territories in San Juan de Morichal, Sifontes municipality”, said a spokesman for the indigenous communities.
In addition, they denounce the inaction and complicity of some Venezuelan government officials with the armed groups engaged in illegal mining in these territories. Therefore, they decided to enforce their rights as set forth in the Law of Delimitation of Indigenous Lands and the Constitution of the Republic.
With slogans such as “Respect Indigenous Lands,” “Stop Illegal Mining,” the indigenous peoples, their captains and elders, call for the support of the national and international community, and the endorsement to submit the case to the National Assembly through the Popular Revolutionary Alternative (APR) delegation.
The document signed by the indigenous people states that “the community of San Luis de Morichal has declared itself in an emergency and in permanent meeting due to the flagrant invasion and violation of its native rights to community lands perpetrated by non-indigenous third parties, the so-called illegal miners, since January 2nd, 2021 in the area of El Chivao, Chicanan River, less than 1 km away from the community’s headquarters.”
“The community of San Luis de Morichal notes that the situation of invasion, illegal occupation and disturbance, by non-indigenous third parties has not ceased, and to the government’s direct intervention and attention.”
They add that “the situation of threat by the invaders has psychologically and emotionally affected the community’s children, which has led to the suspension of school activities for as long as the situation persists.”
They say that “given the absence of a response from the government, invaders are threatening to forcibly initiate mining activities, which could aggravate the situation even further.”
Consequently, they agreed that “the community will exercise its right to protect its habitat and lands in light of the imminent threat of invaders to initiate mining operations at the Chivao site, as a group of them is now doing at some points.”
“To take the required actions and measures to stop any attempt by the invaders to initiate mining work on their lands. Demand the national government to enforce what was agreed between the parties in the inter-institutional meeting dated February 10th, 2021 in the community of San Luis de Morichal, to immediately halt the invasion and locate areas out of indigenous lands for invaders to be relocated and be able to conduct mining activities,” conclude the minutes.
The Venezuelan Constitution in force states, for instance, that “indigenous languages are also officially used by indigenous peoples and must be respected throughout the territory of the Republic, as they represent the nation and humankind’s cultural heritage.”
The Rights of Indigenous Peoples section states that “the government must acknowledge the existence of indigenous peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organization, their cultures, uses and customs, languages and religions, as well as their habitat and native rights over the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy and which are fundamental for the development and guarantee of their way of life.”
This article expressly states that “it shall be the responsibility of the National Executive, with the involvement of the indigenous peoples, to demarcate and guarantee the right to collective ownership of their lands, which shall be permanent, inalienable, unattachable and non-transferable in accordance with the provisions established in this Constitution and the law.”
And for greater clarity, Article 120 determines that “the use of natural resources in indigenous habitats by the government shall be made in such a way as not to impair the cultural, social and economic integrity of the same and, likewise, is subject to prior information and consultation with the respective indigenous communities. The benefits of this use by the indigenous peoples are governed by this Constitution and the law.”
Article 126 states that “the indigenous peoples, as cultures with ancestral roots, are part of the Nation, of the government and of the Venezuelan people as one, sovereign and indivisible. In accordance with this Constitution they have the duty to safeguard national integrity and sovereignty. The term people is not to be interpreted in this Constitution in the sense understood in international law.”