The Yukpa moved to the Sierra de Perijá 2,500 years ago from the Amazon.
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Last stand of the Yukpa?
by LAMMP (Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme)
The economic plan of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela for 2013-2019 promotes the exploitation of mineral deposits in the Sierra de Perijá, an area that is extremely high in biodiversity, and home to the indigenous Yukpa people....
Yukpa leaders have been subjected to political persecution and silenced with imprisonment
In Sierra de Perijá (in the state of Zulia) there is growing alarm over the killings of Indigenous people. These killings are known as ‘silent homicides’ because they are not investigated by the judicial system. Six indigenous Yukpa people in the Perijá region have been murdered and seven wounded so far this year. And the degree of unpunished violence is so high that the area is now more commonly known as the “lawless land”.
With 73,000 Indigenous natives, the state of Zulia has the highest aboriginal population in Venezuela. Many stakeholders are active in the Sierra de Perijá range, each with their own agenda, ranging from deforestation, agribusiness and mining to drug trafficking. Its shared border with Colombia means that the region is also subjected to attacks by the paramilitary, hired killers and soldiers from the Fuerza Armada Revolucionaria Colombiana (FARC).
However, it is the mining operations that pose the most serious threat, not just to the Sierra de Perijá's Indigenous peoples, but also to the biodiversity of the region. According to maps drawn up by the agency responsible for development in Zulia, the government has granted concessions to Russian mining companies to exploit both coltan and uranium in Perijá.
These extractive plans, which will be accompanied by the construction of four important highways and five military bases, have so far been rejected by the Yukpa leaders, even though the real purpose is euphemistically disguised as “Bases for the Security of Citizens” within Indigenous communities known as “Pilot Centres”.
Sociedad Homo et Natura, a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the struggles of the Indigenous peoples living in the Sierra de Perijá, maintains that: “The extractive plans that follow the large corporations’ geo-economic strategy for Latin America is the fundamental reason why President Chávez’s government persists in a policy of allowing only small plots of land for the indigenous Bari and Yukpa people, and its refusal to acknowledge their rights to live as different peoples in a single wide expanse of territory.” This statement refers to the fact that only 2.4% of Indigenous lands have been given exclusively to the Indigenous people.
The economic plan presented by President Hugo Chávez pretty muc explicitly states the exploitation of natural resources in Venezuela as a key goal. His strategy is in direct opposition to the Indigenous peoples’ cosmic vision of their home - a vision which precludes cattle-raising and mining on ancestral lands.
The continuing coal exploitation in the Sierra de Perijá -mainly in the basins of the rivers Socuy, Maché and Cachirí - not only threatens the Indigenous communities in the region. It also poses a significant danger for the Sierra’s ecosystem, since deterioration of that ecosystem impacts the water sources that feed one of Venezuela’s largest cities: Maracaibo and the entire west shore of the Lake Maracaibo.
The loss of cloud forests, which are chopped down to make way for coal mining, are irretrievable losses due to the fragility of these ecosystems. The Sierra de Perijá has the highest number of plant and animal species per surface unit among all the world’s ecosystems.
In the struggle to recover their lands, (which has been ongoing since 1982), the Yukpa people complain that they are cornered by cattlemen, hired killers, guerrilla forces and the military. They are also threatened by hunger and curable diseases.
At present Chief Sabino Romero’s family claims that it receives constant threats from farmers and the military merely for trying to safeguard ancestral territory from mining development.
In 2008 Sabino’s father, the Yukpa shaman José Manuel Romero aged 102, was beaten to death. A video of the shamen, in which he complained about the threats he had received, was never investigated by the authorities. Collective hatred is only strengthened by the media through its criminalisation of Indigenous people.
Since mid-September 2012, the Yukpa have been filing complaints about the presence of armed men in the vicinity of their communities. Yukpa Carmen Fernández identified the alleged killers of two of her sons among those armed men. A third son was so badly wounded in the stomach that he still needs weekly medical treatment.
During an interview with LAMMP, Carmen confirmed that when she filed a complaint about this incident at the offices of the Cuerpo de Inteligencia Científica Policial Criminalístico (CICPC) [the police body handling scientific and criminal intelligence], she was told that if she “continued to pester them, they would kill her other two sons and drink their blood”.
Fiona Watson from Survival International stresses that “the situation of the Yukpa is extremely serious. For decades they have endured violence by the powerful cattle ranchers of Perijá. Although the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999 attributes to the Indigenous peoples the collective titles to their lands, the State has done little to guarantee those rights. The militarisation of the area has had a disastrous impact on the Indigenous way of life.”
LAMMP is a UK-based NGO which has consistently denounced the treatment of the Yukpa Indigenous people at the hands of those who wish to exploit Venezuela’s natural riches.
LAMMP have made a short film about the Yukpa in the Sierra de Perija, contrasting the pledges of President Chavez with the reality of their situation;
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