Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Venezuela and its Indigenous Peoples: Progress or Regression?

South America has had a very mixed record when dealing with its indigenous peoples. Chile, Argentina, and a few others have tended to place industrialization, natural resource extraction, and tourism development above the needs and concerns of the local indigenous peoples. This should not really be that surprising - it is what the U.S., Canada, Australia, and many other places did. However, Venezuela appears to be on a slightly different path.

Under the direction of Chavez, the Venezuelan government has been making some great strides in recognizing the rights of its indigenous peoples. For example, recently Venezuelan vice-president Jorge Rodriguez, together with Nicia Maldonado (the Minister of Popular Power for Indigenous Peoples) handed over eleven housing and land titles recognizing indigenous ownership of land throughout the country. Similarly, the Venezuelan government plans on providing financial support for projects of integral development and housing for the indigenous communities of Pume, Yaruro, Karina and Warao - the indigenous peoples of the states of Apure, Anzoategui, and Bolivar.

This is a pretty good track record for Chavez and his government. We often don't hear about this because the U.S. media is overly saturated with stories influenced by the U.S. government's opposition to Chavez and his socialist agenda. Over the past eight years, however, the Venezuelan government has handed over nine-hundred thousand hectares of land titles to the indigenous peoples of various regions! That's over 2 million acres! Pretty good start for a government that the U.S. is trying to place on its "terrorist" list.

Venezuela is a huge country, with thousands of indigenous groups. Thus far 2,205 indigenous communities representing more than forty different groups have been identified. Out of these, 800 have been confirmed as part of the National Registrar of Indigenous Communal Councils, and 520 have received financing from the government for various development projects. The Indigenous Communal Councils is a body established within the Venezuelan government that I find very interesting. Unlike here in the States, in Venezuela the indigenous groups have come together to leverage their voice on a national and international level by acting as one unit. I suggested just such an idea earlier when I was talking about the Tsawwassen and Semiahmoo in British Columbia and the problems associated with overlapping land claims. Here is a model that allows the indigenous peoples of Venezuela to act as one unit when it comes to national or international issues that has a much larger voice then if they were to act on an individual, group basis. Furthermore, because this body works on communal power, traditional indigenous means of decision making, justice, and action can be incorporated.

So, perhaps Chavez and the Venezuelan government is as bad as the U.S. government leads us to believe (for an example of the U.S. government's manipulation of the situation, check out this Associated Press article. Or perhaps they are not. From what I can gather, Venezuela appears to be doing a better job with its indigenous peoples then Brazil right now. One is following its own path, the other is trying to become best friends with the U.S. You decide - all one has to do is look at where the money goes, which delegates get asked to the White House, and which country treats its indigenous peoples with the respect and dignity that all humans deserve.

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1 comment:

DJ said...

Thanks for this post. I enjoy your blog. Keep it coming!

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