On Tuesday, the day after the national government granted more than 40,000 hectares of land to Yukpa indigenous communities in northwestern Venezuela, assassins attacked the community of Yukpa chief and indigenous rights activist Sabino Romero, killing two and injuring at least four.
Romero’s son in law, Ever Garcia, and a young, pregnant Yukpa woman were shot dead in the attack. Romero received three bullet wounds and is currently in the hospital in stable condition, according to reports from the community. Romero’s daughter, grand daughter, and nephew were also hospitalized with bullet wounds, and are now in the hospital in stable condition.
Romero was one of several Yukpa chiefs who led land occupations last year to demand that the government pay indemnity to the private estate owners and transfer the land to the Yukpa in the form of collective property, in accordance with the Venezuelan Constitution and indigenous rights laws passed by the government of President Hugo Chavez.
Since the land occupations began in July 2008, the Yukpa communities involved have been subject to repeated death threats and attacks by thugs believed to have been hired by large estate owners and their local government allies.
In August 2008, estate owner Alejandro Vargas participated in an attack on Romero’s community, during which Romero’s father, a community elder of more than one hundred years of age, was beaten and killed.
Vargas, a cattle rancher, in an attempt to justify his deadly raid on the Yukpa, accused Romero of stealing several head of cattle. He also claimed on one occasion to have paid bribes to local legal authorities for protection against prosecution, according to the victims of the attacks.
The Yukpa reported the attacks to local police, who said investigations were opened, but no suspects have been arrested.
The National Guard maintains a heavy presence and the government plans to build a new military base in the sparsely populated and conflict-ridden border zone, which is rich in coal deposits and affected by the spillover of refugees, guerrilla insurgents, and paramilitaries from the civil war in Colombia.
Romero and other Yukpa chiefs allied with him are openly opposed to the land grants issued by the government on Monday. They say the government did not effectively consult with the Yukpa communities about the proper demarcation of Yukpa land, and instead carved up Yukpa territory to protect large estate owners, preserve access to coal deposits, and preserve space for a military base in the region. Meanwhile, several other Yukpa chiefs have allied themselves with Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nicia Maldonado and supported the government’s plan for indigenous land demarcation.
Housing and Credits Granted to Indigenous October 12th
In addition to the land titles issued on October 12th in celebration of Columbus Day, which the Chavez government officially renamed Indigenous Resistance Day in 2004, the government also gave houses, transport vehicles, and a variety of small business credits to semi-rural indigenous communities in the states of Amazonas, Bolivar, Anzoátegui, and Zulia.
Education Minister Hector Navarro and Agriculture and Land Minister Elias Jaua attended the inauguration of a bilingual public primary school in Anzoátegui state, where the local indigenous community will be able to study and learn in Spanish as well as their native language.
In the Amazon region, Presidential Chief of Staff Luis Reyes visited a community of approximately one hundred Piaroa families who received small houses of uniform suburban design that were built by the government. The government also gave the community vehicles to transport fruit from their farms to the market. In previous years, the community received credits to build a fruit processing plant and a radio station, and the government built a primary school and a local health clinic as well.
Venezuela’s indigenous population constitutes less than two percent of the national population. Indigenous communities have gained substantial constitutional, legal, and parliamentary recognition since President Chavez took office in 1999.
In this edition of Weekend Update, Russell Means speaks to the racist portrayals of Indians by Hollywood, the U.S. Government and the media of the left. He speaks as well to the soft racism of exclusion that too often ignores the Indigenous communites of the world and their concerns of their land and their people.
On December 22, 1997 paramilitary (state-trained and state-funded pro-governing party civil defense) forces surrounded a Catholic chapel in the pacifistTsotsil Mayan community of Acteal, Chiapas state, Mexico. During a period of several hours, this armed force, with the apparent consent of local Mexican Army units stationed not far away, proceeded to surround Acteal’s chapel, and shot to death those inside, and as many of those who escaped as they could find. A number of residents survived the massacre. Those murdered on that day included 15 children, 21 women (four of them pregnant) and 9 men.
On June 6, 2009, Police, supplied by the U.S. ‘War Against Drugs, shot dead more than 38 people. The government of Peru ordered for the National Police to attack the Amazonian Indigenous peoples. Civilians were shot from building roofs and helicopters.
Indigenous peoples in Peru were on strike for the previous 52 days protesting against free trade policies that would allow multinationals to take over their territories. The attack occurred around 5:00 AM in the morning, a day after the Congress of Peru decided not to debate one of the most important decrees that allow the sale of Indigenous land. The number of casualities is according to a Twetter sent by a Peruvian journalist who is in the area of Bagua, a city located in the Amazonas region of Peru.
In the first week of February, according to indigenous witnesses, Columbian FARC rebels massacred up to 27 Awa people in the southern Narino province, including women and young children (from ages 3 to 6), bringing the total number of murdered Native people to 50 since the national march in the fall.
FARC press statements have only acknowledged the “execution” of eight indigenous due to their alleged assistance of Columbian military, but witnesses deny that figure and the assertion that the Awa willingly assisted anyone.
The National Indigenous Organization of Columbia, ONIC and regional UNIPA, Indigenous Unity of the Awa People, issued a joint statement the week after the massacre, decrying the murders.
“The UNIPA and ONIC denounce the grave violation of human rights and the collective rights of the Awa people of Narino, which is nothing new. … in the last 10 years [in the AWA territory] there have been four massacres, approximately 200 murders and 50 people affected by antipersonnel mines (land mines). … and now 1,300 Awa people are trapped in the area due to confrontations between the army, the guerillas and the para-militaries.”
Guatemalan Civil War:
In its final report, the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH- Guatemalan Truth Commission) concluded that army massacres had destroyed 626 villages, more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared, 1.5 million were displaced by the violence, and more than 150,000 were driven to seek refuge in Mexico. Further, the Commission found the state (funded largely by the United States) responsible for ninety-three percent of the acts of violence and the guerrillas (URNG-Guatemalan Revolutionary Union) responsible for three percent. All told, eighty-three percent of the victims were Maya and seventeen percent were ladino.
President Barack Obama declared at the Summit of the Americas meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in April that there would no longer be junior and senior partners in the Americas–but his actions are sending a different message.
The most egregious case is Honduras, where the U.S. has played ball with the coup-makers who overthrew democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya earlier this month. The Obama administration also failed to speak out against last month’s Peruvian police massacre of more than 50 indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon who were protesting the incursion of petroleum transnational corporations into their territory.
In Bolivia, too, Obama failed another important test. On June 30, the Obama administration rejected renewal of the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA) for Bolivia, citing the country’s alleged failure to cooperate in drug eradication efforts.
With this pronouncement, the administration ratified George W. Bush’s decision last November to suspend the trade agreement with Bolivia on the basis of supposed non-cooperation in counter-narcotics operations. In reality, the suspension was one of a series of tit-for-tat moves that began when Bolivian President Evo Morales declared U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg persona non grata after he advised opposition politicians plotting a coup last September.
Bush overrode the decision of Congress to extend the agreement for six months just a few weeks after Morales announced that the Drug Enforcement Agency was no longer welcome in Bolivia. A few months earlier, Morales had supported the decision of coca growers in the Chapare region, where Morales was a union leader before becoming president, to expel the United States Agency for International Development from the area.
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According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the law was intended to help Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia “in their fight against drug production and trafficking by expanding their economic alternatives. To this end, the ATPA provided reduced-duty or duty-free treatment to most of these countries’ exports to the United States.” It was renewed in 2002 under the ATPDEA name.
The criteria for continued participation fall into four categories: investment policies, trade policies, counter-narcotics operations and workers’ rights.
While the decision cited Bolivia’s supposed failure to meet its counter-narcotics commitments as the reason for non-renewal, it is clear from the text of the U.S. Trade Representative’s report that Bolivia had offended the U.S. in other areas as well. The report cites Bolivia’s nationalization of hydrocarbons, the country’s withdrawal from the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a “difficult investment climate,” and increased tariffs. These are described in matter-of-fact language–but it’s clear that the U.S. is none too pleased.
In the area of counter-narcotics, the trade representative’s report claims that the “loss of the DEA presence and its information network has severely diminished Bolivia’s interdiction capacity in both the short and the long term.”
The report concedes that the Bolivian government has “maintained its support for interdiction efforts” and that “interdiction of drugs and precursor chemicals continues to rise,” and that “the Bolivian counter-narcotics police and other CN [counter-narcotics] units have improved coordination effectiveness.” Yet even Bolivia’s success in these efforts is seen as a problem–the U.S. report concludes that Bolivia’s increased drug interdiction is evidence of “increased cocaine production and transshipment.”
While it appears that cocaine production has, in fact, increased in Bolivia, this is being used as an excuse for the U.S. to punish a government that is challenging American interference within its borders.
If the U.S. government was truly concerned with stopping the production and distribution of illegal drugs, and believed that ending trade preference agreements could have such an effect, it would refuse to extend trade preferences to U.S. ally Colombia, a country at the heart of cocaine production.
According to the Andean Information Network, coca production has risen in three of the four Andean countries participating in the ATPDEA: Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that land area under coca cultivation in the region grew by 16 percent from 2006 to 2007. Colombia led the way with a 27 percent increase, while growth in Bolivia was 5 percent and in Peru 4 percent. “Overall, Colombia accounted for 85 percent of the net 24,700 hectare increase region-wide, while Peru accounted for 9 percent and Bolivia for 6 percent,” the UN agency reported.
Despite this region-wide spike in cocaine production, only Bolivia faces non-renewal of trade preferences. The U.S. recently renewed the ATPDEA for Peru and Colombia, and renewed it for Ecuador the same day it denied renewal to Bolivia.
The suspension of preferred trade status as of December 2008 had already led to a 14 percent decline in Bolivian sales to the U.S. and the loss of more than 2,000 jobs in the country’s largest textile exporter. The textile industry had benefited the most from trade preference and is being hit the hardest by its suspension.
According to AmericaEconomic.com, “Bolivian exports to the U.S., in large part due to the ATPDEA, reached $171,920,000 dollars in the first five months of 2008. In the same period in 2009, exports fell 19.5 percent to $138,370,000. The textile industry has protested that the suspension of the ATPDEA will lose the sector close to 9,000 jobs.”
The Agencia de Noticias Fides (ANF) estimates that 46,000 jobs will be lost nationally and between 5,000 and 7,000 businesses will be affected in the department (region) of La Paz alone. The Santa Cruz Chamber of Exporters estimates that exports from its department to the U.S. will decline 60 percent by the end of the year.
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IN THE lead-up to the decision on ATPDEA, President Morales appealed to the U.S. to renew the agreement, even sending a delegation to the U.S. to make the case. “If President Obama wants to have good relations,” Morales said, “I want to publicly tell him that hopefully he can mend the ways of ex-President Bush.”
When Obama followed Bush’s lead and refused to renew Bolivia’s status as a cooperating government in anti-drug efforts, Morales said the decision was “clearly political.” “I feel deceived by the suspension of the ATPDEA because the Obama government has lied and made slanderous and false accusations against the Bolivian government to suspend the trade preferences,” he told reporters.
So much for the Obama administration’s stated aim of improving relations with Latin America by establishing mutual respect and cooperation. Rather, recent events indicate that Obama is committed to re-establishing U.S. hegemony in the region in order to counter the “pink tide” of center-left governments that have been elected from Central America to the Southern Cone.
Morales put it well:
In the U.S., the appearance of the leaders has changed, but the politics of empire have not. When he told us in Trinidad and Tobago that they are no longer senior and junior partners, President Obama lied to Latin America. Now there is not only a senior partner, there is a patron [boss], a policeman…
They told me not to trust Obama–that the empire is the empire. To those who made this recommendation to me, I thank you. Truly, the empire is the empire. But thankfully, the battle will continue with the consciousness of not only the Bolivian people, but all of the peoples of Latin America.
In a discussion with a New York audience in May, Uruguayan author Eduardo Galleano urged Obama, instead of restoring U.S. “leadership” in the region, to leave Latin America alone. While Obama would win a lot more favor with Latin American governments and populations were he to follow this advice, all signs point to an empire that is gearing up to reassert control in what it has long considered its backyard.
But the increasing consciousness, organization and mobilization of Latin America’s popular classes–there to see on the streets of Honduras in recent weeks–means that the U.S. won’t be able to re-establish hegemony in Latin America without a fight.
Sarah Hines writes from Bolivia
Originally Appeared on Socialistworker.org: http://socialistworker.org/2009/07/22/obamas-latin-america-policy