Oread Daily | 14.10.2004 04:17 | Venezuela
A DAY OF PROTEST IN LATIN AMERICA
posted by Oread Daily on Wednesday October 13 2004 @ 02:21PM PDT
Venezuela celebrated its National Day of Indigenous Resistance yesterday. President Hugo Chavez presented a floral arrangement at the National Pantheon in honor of Chief Guaicaipuro, a 16th Century indigenous leader who managed to unite the distinct indigenous people of the Caracas valley in resistance to Spanish colonialism. Chavez greeted dozens of indigenous people who traveled from as far away as the Venezuelan Amazon to mark this day in the country’s capital named after Guaicaipuro’s people, the Caracas.
Zoila Yanez, 21, a member of the Warao people of the state of Delta Amacuro, said that this Day of Indigenous Resistance is important to native communities in Venezuela because it dispels the idea that Columbus discovered this continent. “When Christopher Columbus landed on this continent we were here. We were here defending our land, our customs, our art, and our culture. They wanted to eliminate our culture but they could not. We are still here and we are still resisting,” Yanez said.
“We have to get rid of Columbus from our minds,” said Marta Orozco from the Bolivian Altiplano, “It is not only indigenous people who have been colonized but also the native people of this country of Venezuela and all of Abya Yala (America),” Orozco said, referring to racially mixed people that now make up the majority of Latin Americans. “From the bottom of my heart I send you greetings from Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and all of Latin America,” Orozco said.
Nicia Maldonado of CONIVE, Venezuela’s national indigenous organization, greeted the people of Caracas. “We salute our brothers and sisters of Caracas, who are the descendants of the Caracas people who today are not here because they were massacred, they were exterminated. The great Chief Guaicaipuro preferred to die before surrendering his territory,” Maldonado said, adding that resistance is not only of native people but of all people who have been excluded.
Also in Caracas, a group of radical young people tore down a statute of Columbus. Several groups openly claimed responsibility for the action, which was done independently of any authority in order to "undo the symbols of our oppressors." The statue was located in downtown Caracas atop a 30 foot high pedestal. Protestors used thick yellow climbing ropes to bring down the 100 year old statue of Columbus and dragged the remains through downtown Caracas and towards the Teresa Carreño theatre, where hundreds of indigenous people presented their cultural songs and dance to each other and other supporters commemorating October 12. "It was an act of symbolic justice," said Angel Montiel, a member of the Organization of Indigenous Youth of Venezuela. Montiel said that the statue of Columbus symbolized colonialism on the continent. "It represented invasion and genocide in our land," Montiel said.
Caracas mayor Freddy Bernal condemned the action, saying that the municipal government is looking into changing the symbols of the city, but not in "anarchic" ways. Bernal attended an act of symbolic resistance yesterday in downtown Caracas, where indigenous people covered a statue of a pointing Columbus with a white sheet and presented the mayor with a formal request to replace the statues of Columbus from the capital city with those of Venezuelan Chief Guaicaipuro. Bernal accepted the request and said he will present the petition to the municipal government of Caracas, but said the process would take time as the decision is not his alone to make.
President Chavez declared October 12, Day of Indigenous Resistance three years ago. Last year Chavez launched the “Misión Guaicaipuro,” in honor of the indigenous leader. Guaicaipuro is a program meant to push forward reforms for indigenous people as specified in Venezuela’s constitution. The constitution of Venezuela respects the rights of indigenous people to traditional land, as well as rights to culture, language and spiritual beliefs.
The Guaicaipuro mission is meant to deliver the country’s new social programs in housing, literacy, education, and health, respecting the customs, languages and cultural identities of indigenous peoples in Venezuela.
In the impoverished southern Mexican state of Chiapas, home to the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), indigenous groups held protest marches in several towns, while native leaders from around the continent came together in a conference at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in the capital to reflect on the situation facing their people today.
Events like these also took place in Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala and Peru, the Latin American countries with the highest proportion of indigenous inhabitants.
Elsewhere in Latin America many protests were held yesterday against the so called neo-liberal policies of Washington. In Costa Rica, for example, numerous social organizations joined together Tuesday in a march to oppose parliamentary ratification of the free trade agreement signed between the United States and five Central American countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua), and to demand an end to the FTAA initiative.
Similar anti-FTAA demonstrations were held in Argentina, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
In Colombia, a group called the Democratic Coalition launched a national strike in opposition to negotiations for a Colombia-US. free trade agreement and to the tax reforms being pushed forward by the conservative administration of President Alvaro Uribe.
Roughly 223 million Latin Americans -- over 43 percent of the population as a whole -- live in poverty, and close to 105 million live in extreme poverty, according to statistics from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. And the region's 50 million indigenous people are among the poorest of the poor. Sources: Vheadlines, Venezuelanalysis.com, IPS, The Scotsman