By María Eugenia Díaz.
Rosa Maria Andrade is a chieftain in the Jivi ethnic group, a relative of the Pume and Yaruro, in the state of Apure that occupy an ancestral territory between the municipalities of Pedro Camejo, Achaguas and Paez. Her drama is no different from some of 3,000 of her countrymen: she left her home to flee violence, forced to live inside an unfinished construction project of the Maduro regime.
Andrade is the captain of 21 indigenous families – 60 adults and five children – who fled last June from the Pedro Camejo municipality because of the mobility restrictions imposed by the quarantine and the insecurity of their lives and property.
Now she is there, living in a facility of the abandoned socialist market inside the Humberto Hernandez bus terminal in San Fernando, Apure state, with her son, two granddaughters, and her Jivi brothers. She is begging for survival but with hopes of, one day, returning to her farming lands, once the Coronavirus quarantine over.
Rosa Maria was happily working the land until 2006 when armed violence in her area of Chaparral La Planta began in earnest. In 2020 she decided to leave. “There were so many robberies and muggings, they even took the roofing of my house,” she told El Pitazo.
“It is our turn to beg to survive. Sometimes people give us mangoes, vegetables, or food; we cook with wood that we collected ourselves. I feel safer in the terminal than in El Chaparral La Planta, although I live thinking about where and how to live: I can’t stay here all the time, I have to find a place to go; I need a roof, food, and medicine.”
Before their escape, Rosa Maria and the 21 families that follow her were dedicated to hunting and to making handicrafts. They sold hats, fans, raccoons, and bags – made by weaving the hemp-like fiber of local moriche palm to survive.
Long time ago
When Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, El Chaparral La Planta was a community with ten indigenous homes. At the end of 2019, the sector was the scene of clashes between indigenous people over the occupation and ownership of more than a dozen hectares of cultivated land.
Rosa Maria Andrade says that she decided to leave her village looking for peace. She regrets that, despite having her own house, given to her by the late President Hugo Chavez, and managing a cooperative dedicated to agriculture and livestock, today, she has to live on begging to support her son and grandchildren. The woman tells how her relatives sometimes traveled to the Venezuela-Colombia border to offer their products, something that now they can’t do because of the pandemic, forcing them to take another option for survival.
“I came to San Fernando to accompany my family and also to sell handicrafts, but when the quarantine began, I couldn’t return. My son called me about a month ago to ask me not to return because he no longer has a home,” she said. “We lived by planting topocho (a banana variety), banana, yucca, and sugar cane. Our grandparents taught us how to work, but in La Macanilla, we couldn’t take advantage of the resources because the criminals would make us dismount the mule,” Rosa Maria said. Dismount the mule is slang for robbery.
The authorities do not punish
Juan Garcia, son of Rosa Maria and the father of three children, said that, in recent years, confrontations have been commonplace between different indigenous gangs dedicated to organized crime that have taken over houses and fields. “This situation pushes us to find new directions,” he said.
After the indigenous people of Chaparral La Planta decided to flee, the only one who remained on these lands was Juan Garcia but, he decided to move to San Fernando because he missed two of his daughters and his mother, Rosa Maria. His third daughter, who is two years old, remains in La Macanilla in the company of her mother.
Juan survives thanks to the sale of handicrafts and his work in a restaurant. “We moved to San Fernando because we got tired of the insecurity. We got threatened by the brothers of Los Bancos,” he said.
Los Bancos, Los Mangos, and Chaparral La Planta are home to several native and non-native gangs. Police say they cannot intervene, since Native Venezuelans have their law and police considerate them as dangerous.
Garcia said the violence intensified after the Jivi got involved in agricultural projects promoted by the Maduro administration, one in Chaparral La Planta and three in the south and west of the Capanaparo River. “We couldn’t take it anymore. Everything was a disaster,” he exclaims.
Now, the Jivi at the bus depot are living in precarious conditions, and at least three of them are sick with tuberculosis.
The 3,000 Pume and Yaruro peoples, with customs similar to the Jivi, live in the lower zone of the Achaguas and the Guasdalito camps in the Paez but, they are nomadic, moving from one place to the next.
From San Fernando, they move to the state of Guarico to plant onions; then, they move to Caicara del Orinoco, in the state of Bolivar, and later return to the state of Apure. They also settle in the department of Arauca in Colombia, as well as in the state of Amazonas. They do all this to escape the violence, although these areas are not free from confrontations.
Lawmaker Rommer Guzamana, president of the Amazonian Parliament, revealed that the crisis in the indigenous communities has worsened in recent years because they lack permanent jobs to support themselves and also health and education services.
“They do not go to school. They don’t have organizations or government representatives to protect them and guarantee their rights: they don’t enjoy any social benefits,” he said.
Guzamana confirmed that the indigenous people of Bajo Apure suffer from tuberculosis and malaria. He is also concerned about underage drinking and smoking in the community.
The lawmaker denounced that in Venezuela, the indigenous people get forced to leave from their territories by rogue Colombian guerrilla gangs, to use these areas for criminal, drug-related activities.
“Five percent of the 3,000 indigenous people in Apure state have been displaced by the irregular groups. The guerrillas are recruiting them to maintain full control of the area and allow them to plant food crops and take care of livestock for payments in dollars or Colombian pesos,” Guzamana said.