|Yukpa woman and child, Sirapta, Sierra de Perijá. |
© Fiona Watson/Survival
Yukpa Indian leader, Sabino Romero, has been detained following the deaths of two Yukpa in October in a fight in the Sierra de Perijá mountains in western Venezuela. The incident occurred after three Yukpa communities obtained controversial land titles.
It is alleged that some Yukpa Indians received money from cattle ranchers to make false allegations about Sabino and his son-in-law stealing cattle. The ranchers oppose Sabino because of his campaign for Yukpa land rights. The week before the attack, Sabino had received death threats.
Sabino was wounded by gunfire and is now being held by the army. He was interrogated without a lawyer or interpreter present. He remains in custody, accused of murder and theft of cattle. Sabino said ‘this problem is caused by the demarcation … the ranchers want to take us off our land’.
Alexander Fernández, a Yukpa ally of Sabino from a neighbouring community, faces similar charges.
Sabino opposes the government’s land demarcation plan, and demands recognition of the Yukpa’ right to a single, continuous territory, rather than fragmented pieces of land for individual communities.
Reports by local non-governmental organisations state that this incident is part of ongoing manipulation by government authorities to provoke fighting amongst Yukpa communities and to weaken the land rights campaign.
Lusbi Portillo of the non-governmental organisation Homo et Natura said that this incident is a result of ‘instigation by landowners, farmers and sectors in the government who want the Yukpa territory to be fragmented, in order to occupy it and pave the way for coal mining in the future’.
Portillo is currently in hiding, following rumours that a warrant has been issued for his arrest, as well as for Sabino’s two sons.
Indigenous leaders of the Sierra de Perijá, at a meeting last month, called for the release of Sabino Romero, and demanded that social activists fighting for their ancestral lands should not be treated as criminals.