Spanish – The community lives in the Sierra de Perijá, a territory divided between Colombia and Venezuela. It is coveted by the dictatorship, paramilitary groups, and cultivation and livestock. This has led the Yukpa people to be subdued and cornered by violence, crisis, and hunger.
For this culture, which has seen with its own eyes the destruction of its lands and its people, sick and malnourished, and the lack of fundamental rights, history is complex.
That same hunger has led them in recent days to travel for hours to the Venezuelan capital and demand recognition of their rights from the Maduro dictatorship.
About 300 indigenous people arrived in the early hours of the morning, having eaten only boiled cassava, cambur (banana), taro, and potatoes. Many said they had no personal hygiene equipment, reported the Venezuelan portal Efecto Cocuyo. However, the group could not even get close to Miraflores.
It was the caciques who managed to meet with Delcy Rodriguez. They left with the promise that their requests would be attended to within a week.
#Ahora en horas de las tarde un grupo de indígenas de la etnia Yukpa, luego de un largo viaje, llegan a Caracas y piden hablar con Nicolás Maduro.
Los derechos de los indígenas se han visto profundamente vulnerados y es cada vez más común verlos en Caracas pidiendo ayuda. pic.twitter.com/EMpVbOSAzZ
— Rosalí Hernández M. (@rohernandezm_) November 19, 2020
#Atención Protesta de indígenas yukpa cerca del palacio presidencial de Miraflores. Llegaron hoy a Caracas para reclamar a @NicolasMaduro por precaria situación en #Zulia. Son reprimidos por PNB en Puente Llaguno. Se reporta una persona “herida de flecha”. Foto @RobertLobo_ pic.twitter.com/VITf3eaBwa
— Lisseth Boon (@boonbar) November 19, 2020
Forgotten and sick
Culturally, they are nomads, hunters, and grow their own food. But for years, they have been starving.
A report by Infobae in 2018 shows that about 500 yukpas were forced to travel to Colombia in search of rice. Three days of travel on hikes, buses, and even donkeys. They also sought medical assistance for their pregnant women and children suffering from measles or any other condition.
They then settled in the Colombian departments of Norte de Santander, Cesar, and La Guajira. However, they came across territories dominated by the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which used them for smuggling and drug trafficking.
To make matters worse, the border police label them smugglers because some are recruited by criminal networks, and others carry bags of food.
The Sierra de Perijá is a territory shared by Venezuela and Colombia, but the Yukpas have no nationality in either country. Their members were never recorded in any register, and they have no documents, so they are considered stateless.
In May of the same year, some 250 indigenous people were in the shelter in the Nuevo Escobar neighborhood of Cúcuta when an armed group entered, beating them, and trying to take several young people away.
A month later, they decided to return to Venezuela. “We were suffering hardships there, there was no food, we were hungry,” Brinolfo Romero, an indigenous Yukpa, told Infobae.
“We must understand that in the worldview of the Yukpa people, the entire Serrania del Perijá, where they live, is one single territory. They do not distinguish borders between Colombia and Venezuela. That is why they ask to be considered as a binational people,” Oscar Montero, coordinator of the Human Rights Liaison of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), explained to Infobae.
The community has not achieved its binational status. For this to happen, there must be an agreement between the governments of Venezuela and Colombia- an agreement that seems difficult to achieve because of the differences between the two administrations.
For the Yukpas, the loss of land has been a problem for decades. Colonization, marijuana cultivation, paramilitary groups, and cattle ranching have encroached on their land until they were pushed into a corner.
The demands of the indigenous people in cattle lands in the state of Zulia were led by the cacique Sabino Romero Izarra. But on March 4, 2013, he was murdered by Angel Bracho, alias “Manguera,” a bodyguard of a landowner in the Sierra de Perijá, according to El Diario.
Another tragedy had already occurred in 2008 when the father of Cacique Sabino Romero, José Manuel Romero, was brutally beaten by the staff of the Machiques Cattlemen’s Association (Gadema). He died a few days later.
That incident reached the ears of Hugo Chávez, who promised villas and castles for the indigenous people, and like all promises of Chavismo, the result was even worse.
“Now, here is a revolution. Everyone shall support the indigenous people. And there is a demarcation commission that has an outstanding debt. If Hugo Chávez has a farm there, and there’s indigenous land, well, it’s expropriated, that’s the indigenous peoples’. Justice for the indigenous” said the late Hugo Chávez.
The Yukpa believed Chávez, as did many Venezuelans at the time. But eventually, the government violated indigenous organizational customs, El Diario reported.
“At that time, Tareck El Aissami was Minister of Interior and Justice, and together with Nicia Maldonado, Minister of Indigenous Affairs, they tried to introduce, by force, the concept of Communal Councils in the Yukpa communities,” declared Germán Pirela, an anthropologist from the University of Zulia.
By 2010, the indigenous community was protesting in front of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) in Caracas to make the government comply with the constitution, respecting the justice systems established in the indigenous community.
Cornered by the conflict
Hunger and injustice are compounded by more problems on the other side of the Sierra de Perijá. In the late 1980s, the 41st Front of the FARC occupied much of the Sierra, as did the ELN with the Camilo Torres front- both Colombian paramilitary groups.
In the late 1990s, paramilitaries arrived under the command of Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias Jorge 40, commander of the Northern Bloc. The consequences were the displacement, assassination, and disappearance of several yukpas.
Moreover, the land taken for cultivation and repeatedly fumigated has caused genetic problems. Many children are born with diseases and malformations such as cleft lip, the Mongabay portal reports.
“Every 15 days, we were bathed with that chemical that damaged our land to grow crops and our health. There are many children with cleft lips and palates as a result of the fumigations,” said José Manuel García, from the Iroka reservation, the most populated territory within the Yukpa people.
The isolation of the Yukpa people due to all these factors has led them to be confined to the top of the mountains, with little access to water, healthcare, and food, leaving them forgotten by the ambitions of the governments and the Venezuelan dictatorship to the point of near extinction.