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Date: Sat, 14 Aug 1999 01:04:29 -0500 (CDT)
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS-VENEZUELA: Indigenous Children Set Forth Their Demands
Article: 72705
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.8635.19990818121523@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 474.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-VENEZUELA: Indigenous Children Set Forth Their Demands **
** Written 9:06 PM Aug 12, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Indigenous Children Set Forth Their Demands

By Luis Cordova, IPS, 12 August 1999

CARACAS, Aug 12 (IPS) - Indigenous children in Venezuela Thursday challenged the Constituent Assembly currently writing a new constitution to lay the foundations for a multicultural nation, and do away with the situation of neglect to which the country's native peoples have been condemned.

I am a Yekuana, and I have come to demand my rights, young Danny Maldonado told the final gathering of 100 children from 24 ethnic groups who met in Caracas this week to draw up a document presenting their demands to the Constituent Assembly.

The six-month process of rewriting Venezuela's constitution offers an unprecedented opportunity for participation by the country's 300,000 indigenous people - of a total population of 23 million - who have six representatives among the 131 members of the Constituent Assembly.

Three of the indigenous representatives were directly chosen by the communities, as part of a mechanism designed to ensure that their interests were represented.

And this week, it was the turn of indigenous children to set forth their views. We need please to be given property rights over our land, like the 'criollos' (non-indigenous) have, said Beatriz Castro, a young member of the Jivi community, who also called for educators capable of bilingual teaching.

The gathering, organised by 'Centros Comunitarios de Aprendizaje' (Community Learning Centres) and sponsored by UNICEF (the United Nations children's fund), demonstrated that the youngsters were in touch with the needs of their communities.

Most of the young delegates mentioned the need for access to education, health care and public services, while demanding respect for their cultures, traditions and languages.

During their stay in Caracas, the youths had the opportunity to meet with several members of the Constituent Assembly, including First Lady Marisabel de Chavez, who is also the president of the Fundacion del Niño (Children's Foundation).

The proposals outlined by the indigenous children will be submitted to the Constituent Assembly, which in its first 10 days of sessions has discussed procedural matters, as well as the possible dissolution of parliament and the Supreme Court.

We ask the Assembly to help us with our rights as indigenous children, said Jennifer Valencia, a member of the Kariña ethnic group. Milagros Yañez, meanwhile, stressed our right to a healthy, decent environment.

The participation of indigenous people in the Constituent Assembly has raised hopes of obtaining redress for the basic demands of this South American country's roughly thirty ethnic groups.

The National Indigenous Council, which organised the election of the indigenous delegates, has repeatedly stated its hopes for a special chapter on indigenous rights in the new constitution.

The Council considers it indispensable for Venezuela to be declared a multicultural nation, in which a number of languages are spoken, as a starting-point for putting forth demands such as access by indigenous communities to property rights over their land and intellectual property rights over ancestral knowledge.

Venezuela's constitution, which dates back to 1961, contains only a passing mention of indigenous peoples, granting them the right to a special regime - which, however, has failed to prevent neglect and discrimination.

There are children who suffer discrimination due to their culture, Marcos Barroso, a young member of the Wayuu ethnic group from the western state of Zulia, said Thursday. There are many people who discriminate against other people due to their typical dress.

Young delegates from the Yukpa community along the border with Colombia protested the impact of coal mining in their region, while Waraos from the Orinoco river delta, near the border with Guyana, accused oil companies of polluting their world.

Please, I ask you to do all you can to help us rescue our identity, otherwise our ethnic group will become extinct, said Manuel Morán, an Añú youngster.

The driving force behind the process of rewriting the constitution has been President Hugo Chavez, who from the start has sought to guarantee participation by Venezuela's indigenous peoples.

Chavez, whose followers won a broad majority in the Jul 25 elections for the Constituent Assembly, presented the first draft for a new constitution to be considered by the Assembly, in which he addresses the indigenous issue.

The Venezuelan state recognises the existence of indigenous peoples, their social, political and economic organisation, and customs, languages, beliefs and traditions, as well as native rights over the land and territory they have traditionally occupied, states the president's proposal.