Venezuela: Interview with an indigenous activist
As part of the 2.300 delegates in the second Zapatista and indigenous community’s international reunion, which took place last July in Mexico, there was a small delegation from Zulia. Jorge Montiel and Diego, members of the wayuu community, delivered a truly important message: Venezuelan indigenous community’s situation is very different than the declared by the government people in Caracas. The message transmitted concerned the “zapatista” movement which, as previous declarations confirmed, started to consider in good terms the Venezuelan government actions. El Libertario talked about the experience with Jorge Montiel, member of the Maikiralasa’lii, which means organization who does not sell itself.
What motivated you to assist to the Zapatista reunion?
- The invitation came from Professor Quintero Weil, from LUZ (Zulia’s University); he’s studying a PhD degree in Mexico and has some relations with the Zapatista movement. It was always part of our aims to go to Mexico and share the experience with our fellow Zapatistas, opportunity we had thanks to people like Cristian Guerrero, fellow students from the UNAM (National Autonomic Mexican University) and also other people who welcomed us with solidarity.
Homoetnatura, which you are linked with, has taken a continue struggle about the coal issue. Now the wayuu have formed a new group named Maikiralasa’lii. What’s the difference?
- Homoetnatura has always been linked to the indigenous communities, but we wanted to have an organization strictly for wayuu indigenous, despite this we have the same aims. Right now we are only wayuu, but we are considering the possibility of associate with other communities in order to include also our fellow Yukpa and Bari. With this new organization and against the coal we went to Mexico.
How was the welcoming in the reunion?
- Our message surprised our fellow Zapatistas and other indigenous, journalists and fellows from all continents. We talked a lot about our struggle, which is very similar to Zapatista’s struggle: land, water, biodiversity. They loved the fact that in Venezuela we have an organization not handled by political parties. When we explained everything related to the struggle, the Zapatistas said “you are the first Venezuelan indigenous organization who comes without wearing the red shirt and cap (red is related to Venezuelan government). We have met a lot of Venezuelan organizations who speak about a lot of issues but don’t explain the real situation”. We explained our own truth with no intention to attack President Chavez government, because we have a truth in front of us and we need to inform it. We were the most interviewed delegation in this reunion. We had almost 40 interviews from all over the World. When we came back our struggle was clearer, since we realized we are not alone.
Which activities you took part of during the reunion?
- We participated in every workshop. We spoke in the stage; we delivered messages to sub Commander Marcos, Moisés, Tacho and Commander Hortensia. We couldn’t speak personally with Marcos, but we had a short conversation with Tacho. We delivered a folder with information about our struggle. We expressed that we wanted support. We delivered also the video “Socuy lucha por la tierra” and the movie “Nuestro petróleo y otros cuentos”. We offered a press conference for all our fellows who couldn’t attend. We were there for 2 hours, one hour clarifying why Wayuu were attending the reunion and then we had the questions round.
_Not chavistas or antichavistas: indigenous_
What did they know about the indigenous situation in Venezuela?
- In the beginning a lot of people were surprised because we told the truth. They had a different information, trough the ministries and deputies, that everything was OK in the country, that they were settling the historical rights in Venezuela. The wrong idea came also from the president speeches outside the country. We said we had no representative; no deputy speaks in favor of the indigenous threatened by the coal. We explained that all the Perijá mountain range was going to be given in concession and that Corpozulia was responsible of it. We also said that the indigenous ministry was managed by the government, not the indigenous. There was no popular vote, the indigenous did not vote to found the ministry or assign a minister. We said we have the land issue, since the land demarcation stopped and we didn’t know why. We also said that the Mara indigenous community legitimacy was not accepted, even when the law establishes that for tradition or even foundation you can create an indigenous community. Fellow Zapatistas said “Wow, how come? If they speak positive about the indigenous situation in Venezuela, the deputies and the ministries…” No, we answered, it’s completely the opposite. Deputies are with Corpozulia, with the transnational companies. We also made clear that we are not chavistas or antichavistas: we are indigenous against imperialism and capitalism. If we were antichavistas we would be running for high positions in the opposition. If we were chavistas we would be running for deputy in the assembly, the legislative counsel or running for counselor. We are in the middle, standing for our own interests, which is the land.
Was there a negative reaction towards these words?
- At the beginning of the speech in San Cristóbal, Chiapas, in the university, some North Americans became very upset. They were chavistas and said we were conservators and we shouldn’t speak like that when everything is OK in Venezuela. But one fellow who speaks English, because we don’t, said “have you been to Socuy? Have you seen the situation of our fellow indigenous?”. “No”. “Then how come you say there are no problems there? You have to go there first, and then you can criticize them.
What’s the thing you remember the most?
- The workshops, since we have them in a different way in Venezuela. For the Zapatistas it’s all about giving response to what they’ve done, because many organizations support them. For example they talk about the doctors. They say there’s a “huesero” who is in charge of repairing the bones. Another doctor is the naturist “yerbatero”, and he is in charge of preparing the traditional medicines. They also explained the effects of the medicines. They also talked about the maternity medicine they use for childbirth, which is not the regular university medicine. They explained how they do it, and also explained everything about their teachers and the “good government boards”. People asked, but for me it was clear. It was very organized. That part we highly recommend, there were 14 years old young men standing in the stage, giving speeches and explaining how they manage themselves as an autonomic community. They also explained the punishment for men who mistreat their women: 60 days of social work in the community. There was a fellow asking about the zapatist jail compared to the government jail. They answered: “different, since we do not torture”.
Did you make any agreements with other Latin American organization?
- With one indigenous organization from Mexico named FUDEM, they protect electric energy. We reached an agreement with the zapatistas so two fellow wayuu woman can go to a women reunion, which is going to take place in December 30 and 31. We subscribed the historical book of our fellow Zapatistas, and we also had the chance to talk to the indigenous movements in Oaxaca, Guerrero and also with the Mexican Indigenous Congress. We reached commitments with organizations from France, Italy and Spain, agreements establishing they are going to visit us and we are going to visit their countries to speak about the indigenous consensus. We also had relations with anarchist groups, and they are going to visit us too. We are multiplying and growing and we have no fear because we are fighting for our rights. We said we would always be in touch. We are planning to ask for permission to have the third Zapatistas reunion with the world in El Socuy. It’s up to them, because they are coming down to Latin America to have the other campaign.
What are you going to do now, what plans do you have for Maikiralasa’lii?
- To fortify it, get together more fellows and keep making conscience. We are not going to fall for the same ambition than CONIVE (National Venezuelan Indigenous Confederation), which Nohelí Pocaterra manages. It’s going to be a strictly indigenous non-profit organization with no parties’ relation. When you have political interest the organization can’t succeed. We have different projects: schools, museums, radio stations, houses. We have no resources but we are advancing, we are strong and we are many. A struggle like this is dignifying and a lot of people admire it. Sub Commander Marcos itself used one of our phrases and said it was from the “Venezuelan indigenous who fights”. Here we are, here we stand, and here we resist.
_Retaliation to the dissidence_
Wayuu indigenous, after their trip to Mexico, started to suffer intolerance attacks in their own flesh. They were invited to a National Venezuelan Radio workshop, from a state radio station; all of the sudden Montiel was notified that they were no longer invited. The reason? They signed the letter delivered to Marcos from the EZLN, regarding the local indigenous situation. “That’s a retaliation against us”, said the indigenous activist who decided to live the protagonist democracy that claims the Venezuelan government. “Can’t we criticize anything? This was said specifically to the person who invited us. In Mexico we said: probably from now on there is going to be a police persecution against us and our fellow ecologist. We fear that persecution, since that’s the way coal people, transnational companies and their friends act”.
[El Libertario, # 51, November 2007, Venezuela]
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