Chavez gives land to indigenous groups

Gerrard Winstanley office at
Fri Aug 12 13:29:25 BST 2005

Venezuela's Chavez presents land titles to indigenous groups 
By Thais Leon

6:57 p.m. August 9, 2005

KARI'NA LA ISLA, Venezuela – Six of Venezuela's indigenous communities 
received title to their ancestral lands on Tuesday in a ceremony that 
Venezuela's president said reversed centuries of injustice. 

President Hugo Chavez said he hoped the government would be able to 
turn over titles to 15 other indigenous communities by the end of the 

"What we're recognizing is the original ownership of these lands," 
Chavez said during the ceremony. "Now no one will be able to come and 
trample over you in the future." 

He was joined by Kari'na Indians wearing traditional dress, face paint 
and strings of colored beads. 

But Chavez warned that the process of granting legal ownership must 
respect Venezuela's "territorial unity," and he urged other indigenous 
groups not to ask for "infinite expanses of territory." 

"Don't ask me to give you the state's rights to exploit mines, to 
exploit oil," Chavez said. "Before all else comes national unity." 

The documents recognize land ownership by six indigenous communities 
with some 4,000 people and territory covering 314,000 acres in the 
eastern states of Anzoategui and Monagas. 

One woman from the Kari'na community thanked Chavez, saying: "He has 
been the first president who has kept his word to a people who have 
been stripped of their lands." 

An estimated 300,000 Venezuelans belong to 28 indigenous groups, many 
living in the country's sparsely populated southeast. 

South American countries have made various efforts to grant indigenous 
groups legal ownership and control over their traditional territories. 

In neighboring Colombia, indigenous groups in officially recognized 
communities can administer justice, receive state funds and have their 
own government. 

Brazil has set aside more than 12 percent of its territory for 
indigenous communities, and in Peru various laws declare the rights of 
indigenous groups to ancestral territory in the Amazon. 

But problems have arisen in some countries as miners and loggers have 
moved onto Indian lands. And in various countries, a key debate has 
revolved around the state's rights to what lies underground, such as 
oil and mineral wealth.

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