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VENEZUELA
Hitmen murder indigenous leader
3/7/2013
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Yukpa cacique was known for defending the indigenous territory.

Yukpa cacique Sabino Romero was shot on March 3 as he and his wife were on their way to an elections event. Romero was known for defending the lands of his people in the Sierra de Perijá, in the Venezuelan northwestern state of Zulia.

In a statement, the nongovernmental organization Venezuelan Education and Action Program, or PROVEA, declared that Romero had experienced “constant penalization by the authorities due to his mobilizing in defense of the Yupka people. His freedom was taken away for 18 months [between 2010 and 2011], and he was constantly harassed by police.”
 
The justice system considered Romero responsible for the death of two Yukpa indigenous people during the Oct. 2009 confrontations between communities because of land distribution.

In 2011 President Hugo Chávez expropriated more than 15,000 hectares (37,500 acres) of land in the Sierra de Perijá to grant them to the indigenous communities, but this did not resolve the demarcation of their ancestral territory, which the indigenous claim has 300,000 hectares (450,000 acres).

Shared with Colombia, the Sierra de Perijá is rich in carbon, coltan, and tungsten deposits, and it has fertile soils. In fact, on the Colombian side operates Cerrejon, one of the largest open-pit carbon mines of the world.

Lusbi Portillo, coordinator of the Homo et Natura Society — an environmental organization and defender of the rights of indigenous peoples — declared that Romero had received numerous death threats and was assassinated because of his fight for the right to Yukpa people’s territory.

Portillo indicated that the Yukpa are occupying some 15 haciendas and 300 land plots in the Sierra de Perijá, which are part of their ancestral territory that ranchers seized. However, the government has yet to return the expropriated haciendas that remain at the hands of landowners.

For Portillo, Romero’s murder “occurred in the context of the hacienda demarcation process and the lack of payment. It is very important that the haciendas be paid for [because] the life of the indigenous is in danger. Ranchers and more than 600 small plot owners are taking the position of killing the children of Sabino [Romero].”

In November of last year a group of 36 Yukpa caciques headed by Romero met at the Bolívar Plaza in Caracas to demand the government grant the collective property title of their territory as well as to denounce the violent situation that their community faces.

“They want to end us, they want to get rid of the indigenous race,” said Romero. “It hurts me that they are killing us indigenous, we are dying each day from bullets of the military and police. I ask for punishment for landowners and ranchers who each day continue killing the indigenous in Zulia.”

In the last five years, eight Yukpa indigenous people have died violently.
Minister of Communication and Information, Ernesto Villegas, ensured that the investigations on Romero’s death are under way.

 “We cannot hypothesize prematurely on this abominable and despicable act, but in general it brings up for discussion the struggle for just land distribution,” said Villegas. —Latinamerica Press.


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