Part of the celebrations on the Day of Indigenous Resistance in Venezuela on October 12, 2011, included the announcement that the Federal Government was returning more than 39,000 acres of land to the Yukpa people in the state of Zulia that borders Colombia.
On that same day there were announcements stating that more lands would be returned to Indigenous Peoples in December but no further public actions have been taken towards that end.
The official ceremony in October took place in a “great assembly” in Sierra de Perija, a town in Zulia, home to many Yukpa and other Indigenous Peoples.
“All of this territory, in which indigenous people can now freely travel, was occupied by ranchers in the last 100 years, with whom we don’t want to have any conflict,” stated Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua, referring to the compensation of the former landowners and the transfer of titles that was part of the event.
“Five hundred years ago there was forced displacement of indigenous communities,” Jaua continued, “there were 500 years of humiliation from the violence of the colonizers.”
“But this,” the Vice President said in reference to the transfer, “is an act of social justice attached to our constitution.”
The Bolivarian Constitution of 1999 included several passages that specify new rights and highlight intentions of the government to support indigenous-related efforts. For instance, Article 9 of the constitution declared that while Spanish is Venezuela’s official language, “indigenous languages are also for official use for Indigenous Peoples and must be respected throughout the Republic’s territory for being part of the nation’s and humanity’s patrimonial culture.” Chapter VIII details the rights and responsibilities of Indigenous Peoples. In particular, Article 119 recognizes the social, political, and economic organization of indigenous communities, as well as their cultures, languages, rights, and lands. Specifically, land rights were defined as collective, inalienable, and non-transferable. On October 12, 2003, the government announced a national campaign to provide legal titles for traditional indigenous land holdings.
Following up on that campaign, in August of 2005 the Chavez government returned 313,690 acres to 15 indigenous communities in the states of Monagas y Anzoátegui; and on the Day of Indigenous Resistance in that same year the Government gave back 1,647,490 acres to 15 indigenous communities that stretched across four states. Then in 2008, after authorities intervened in what was described as a violent land dispute between a Yukpa community and land owners, the government granted the Yukpa 98,800 acres.
“There should be no doubt,” President Chavez said at the time, “Between the large estate owners and the Indians, the government is with the Indians.”
With the October return of the 39,026 acres, the Venezuelan government has returned at least two million acres of land to Indigenous Peoples in various parts of the country, including areas that are thought to contain mineral deposits and other resources.