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Date: Fri, 12 Jul 1996 17:03:24 -0500
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>>> Item number 6888, dated 96/07/10 04:10:41 -- ALL
Date: Wed, 10 Jul 1996 04:10:41 GMT
Reply-To: Rich Winkel <rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu>
Sender: Activists Mailing List <ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.MISSOURI.EDU>
From: Rich Winkel <rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu>
Organization: PACH
Subject: Amazonian Indians Request Support To Keep Control Of Land

/** headlines: 125.0 **/
** Topic: Amazonian Indians Request Support To Keep Control Of Land **
** Written 11:28 AM Jul 8, 1996 by econet in cdp:headlines **

/* Written 12:16 AM Jul 6, 1996 by gn:wrm in rainfor.genera */
/* ---------- No Subject Given ---------- */

Amazonian Indians request support

From the Forest Peoples Programme,
4 July 1996

Imposed legislation, dividing the Amazon State in Venezuela into electoral municipalities, is undermining indigenous peoples' control of their lands and destinies. The law creating the electoral divisions is considered unconstitutional and is being contested by the indigenous peoples in the courts. However, while the courts have delayed hearing the case, the local government has gone ahead with the dismemberment of the area. The indigenous peoples are calling for international support to urge the courts to consider the case as soon as possible.

The 19 indigenous peoples of the Venezuelan Amazon, represented by the 'Organizacion Regional de Pueblos Indigenas de Amazonas' (ORPIA) and supported by the Human Rights Office of the Catholic Church in Puerto Ayacucho, have been demanding that the law creating the political divisions of the Amazon State in Venezuela be declared null and void by the Supreme Court, since February 1995.

For eight months the Supreme Court of Justice took no action over the case and it was only after concerted pressure from the Indians that in November 1995, the court finally declared the case one requiring an urgent hearing. Yet still the Court has not declared its judgement.


Until recently the Venezuelan Amazon was administered as a Federal Territory and run by Governors appointed from Caracas. More recently, as part of a nation-wide programme of decentralization, the Terrirory has been declared a State, opened to local electoral politics and steps have been undertaken to divide the State up into new administrative units.

However, the 'Ley de Division Politico Territorial del Estado Amazonas' was pushed through by the local Government without consultations with the indigenous peoples. Under the law the new State of Amazonas has been divided up into 'municipios', each with elected 'alcaldes' (mayors), and each in turn divided into a number of 'paroquias' with their respective elected heads. These areas and institutions do not correspond with traditional indigenous systems for decision-making. Moreover, they overlap indigenous territories to which the Indians have not yet gained titles in accordance with Venezuelan law.

Despite indigenous objections and the filing of a case contesting the legality of the law, the local government has gone ahead with applying the new structure and forced through elections. Already the imposed system is causing problems. Party politics has been introduced into the communities causing divisions. New clientelistic relations have been established throughout the territory. Dominant communities and ethnic groups have strengthened their authority over smaller and politically marginal ones. The introduction of salaried office holders into the villages has hastened the emergence of an indigenous elite and accelerated the trend towards individualist profit seeking. As the boundaries of the new 'municipios' and 'paroquias' do not conform to indigenous ethnic boundaries, new internal divisions and factionalism has been created. Most serious, the new 'municipios' have begun a process of expropriating untitled indigenous lands for municipal use.

The Indians have argued that the law dividing up the State is unconstitutional - article 77 of the constitution allows for exceptional administrative regimes in indigenous areas to accomodate their cultural differences. They also note that the law is contrary to established procedures, as the towns about which the new 'municipios' are being created are far too small to qualify.

The Indians demand that instead their land rights are first properly recognised and that subsequently consultations take place to devise an adminstrative regime that suits their cultures and coincides with their customary systems of decision-making.

Road stopped:

This is the second court case that ORPIA has fought contesting Government initiatives in the State of Amazonas. Earlier this year, ORPIA successfully challenged the local Government's attempts to build a road from the State capital Puerto Ayacucho south to San Fernando de Atabapo. The Indians objected to the road on the grounds that they had not been consulted about it. They argued that as their land rights had not been secured, the road would open the way for colonisation and cause land invasion, deforestation, health problems and loss of cultural autonomy. They also argued that the road had been pushed through without the legally required Environment Impact Assessment being carried out. The court ruled in their favour and ordered that road construction be halted.


You are kindly requested to send faxes or letters either in Spanish or your own language:

Send the faxes or letters to:

1) Dra. Cecilia Sosa
Presidenta de la Corte Suprema de Justicia
Av. Baralt, San Jose de Avila
Caracas, Venezuela

2) Dr. Alfredo Ducharme
Magistrado Ponente
Corte Suprema de Justicia
Av. Baralt, San Jose del Avila
Caracas, Venezuela

Fax number for both: 00 58 2 563 8113

Send copies to:

Oficina de Derechos Humanos ORPIA
Vicariato Apostolico Sector Los Lirios
Puerto Ayacucho Puerto Ayacuhco
Estado Amazonas Estado Amazonas
Venezuela Venezuela
Fax: 00 58 48 211 545