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Chronology for Indigenous Peoples in Venezuela

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Indigenous Peoples in Venezuela, 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f38f3c.html [accessed 27 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Date(s) Item
Sep 1, 1989 The National Indian Council of Venezuela (CONIVE) is privately founded to protect Indian lands and rights. CONIVE represents over 23 indigenous ethnic groups. They want protection of their lands from encroachment by commercial interests, and recognition of their cultures. Discussions on establishing the council have been in progress for three years, but the Wayuu and Yanomami leaders resisted demands for their own national identities as this is a European concept, not natural in their views.
Sep 21, 1989 The Warao become Venezuela's first non-Hispanic ethnic group to have their own textbook for teaching members how to read and write. The text is to be published by the La Salle Foundation of the Caribbean Anthropology and Sociology Institute of Venezuela.
Dec 1989 For the first time, state and local elections are held in Venezuela. Previously, state governors were appointed by the president.
Jul 1991 Two American anthropologists form a fundraising organization, the American Friends of the Venezuelan Indians, for the establishment of a reserve for Yanomami lands.
Aug 1991 Venezuelan President Carlos Andrez Perez decreed 32,000 square miles of southern jungle to be a national reserve and off limits to most forms of agriculture and development. The reserve, to be known as the Upper Orinoco-Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve is intended to protect the Yanomami and Ye'kwana peoples, lands and cultures, and to protect the environment in that region from further mining. Within the reserve restrictions are also placed on proselytizing.
Oct 1, 1991 Venezuela prohibits the felling of forests and issues a memorandum regulating the exploitation of all minerals.
Oct 20, 1991 Napoleon Chagnon and Charles Brewer Carias, two anthropologists studying the Yanomami, are lobbying in Venezuela for numerous measures which they claim are essential to the survival of the indigenous people.
Jan 1992 A Brazilian plane owned by gold miners was reportedly shot down by Venezuelan troops. Miners claim that the pilot and passenger survived the crash, but were then killed by the troops. The Venezuelan military has also been bombing the airstrips the miners use as well. Over the past few months, Venezuela has arrested more than 100 Brazilian miners, returning them back to Brazil.
Feb 5, 1992 A group of military officers attempt to topple President Carlos Andres Perez. Officers loyal to Perez put down the coup. Seventy people were reportedly killed during the fighting. The government also captured 300 rebel prisoners.
Jul 21, 1992 Representatives of the indigenous people of Venezuela submitted a request to President Carlos Perez to legalize their ownership of ancestral lands and tribal land holdings. Later, they request a constitutional amendment recognizing their land rights.
Aug 1992 Venezuelan indigenous peoples have appealed to the Venezuelan parliament to correct a proposed constitutional amendment which calls for their incorporation into Venezuelan national life. A cholera epidemic has broken out in Venezuela in the coastal regions. The disease is being spread through the unsanitary use of seafood, the primary source of food and income for the Warao and Wayuu peoples on the coast. Over 80% of the cases have been among the indigenous people.
Sep 1, 1992 The Hemispheric Congress of the American Indians is being held in Caracas, Venezuela. The congress supports the claims by indigenous people in Venezuela that the Venezuelan constitution needs to be reformed in order to permit Indians to own land.
Nov 27, 1992 Rebels attempt to oust the government of President Carlos Andres Perez for the second time this year. They attacked the Presidential Palace and an airbase. At least 170 people have died in this coup attempt.
1993 The Venezuelan courts reject an appeal by the Yabarana tribe to keep ranchers from plowing over their agricultural fields and using them for cattle grazing. The Yabarana are in danger of extinction as they number only 237 and the government has condoned the encroachment onto their lands by ranchers.
Mar 24, 1993 Delegates from the Amazon's indigenous organizations met to discuss strategies for the defense of their ancestral lands and to seek international recognition as autonomous states. The meeting is hosted by the Council of Amazon Basin Indigenous Organizations (CABIO). It is being attended by 400 ethnic groups of the Amazon Basin.
May 22, 1993 The Venezuelan Senate voted to suspend President Carlos Andres Perez from office and proceeded to authorize the Supreme Court to prosecute him on charges of misusing government funds.
Jun 14, 1993 The Foreign Minister of Venezuela announces that his government will insist that the "right to development" be included as a fundamental right in the U.N. World Conference in Vienna.
Aug 17, 1993 Just inside the Venezuelan border, Brazilian gold miners massacre 16 Yanomami Indians. International human rights groups and indigenous rights groups throughout the world protest to both the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments. The massacre followed several clashes in July between miners and Yanomami in which several miners and Yanomami were killed. Since 1989, there have been isolated clashes between miners and Yanomami groups with a few fatalities. The clashes, however, did not lead to escalation as the July clashes have.
Aug 27, 1993 U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali expressed "great sorrow" and deplored the massacre of the Yanomami Indians in Venezuela. 2,000 Yanomami reportedly have either been murdered or died from disease since 1987.
Sep 1993 Venezuelan Foreign minister Fernando Ochoa Antich condemns the actions of multinational mining companies which are said to be backing the gold miners in the Yanomami lands. About 100 representatives of indigenous organizations marched through Caracas calling on the governments of Venezuela and Brazil to cooperate in the investigation of the massacre of 16 Yanomamis and in the future protection of the Yanomami from gold miners.
Sep 27, 1993 The U.S. based missionary group "New Tribes" has been accused of distributing arms to local indigenous groups. The purpose of the arms is reportedly to help the groups in hunting, but the Yanomami and many other groups are warlike and raid other villages occasionally. Reports claim that the "New Tribes" mission, like the Salesian Catholic missions attracts converts with shotguns which are then used to raid defenseless villages.
Dec 1993 Tuberculosis has reached epidemic proportions among the indigenous people. The disease is being spread by the gold miners in the region. In addition, Venezuelan Health minister Pablo Pulido reported that 19 deaths have already occurred because of mercury poisoning, directly due to the presence of the miners. Also, the gold miners reportedly have spread venereal diseases among some of the members of the Yanomami.
Dec 7, 1993 Populist Rafael Caldera has been elected president for the second time in 25 years. The election of Caldera is significant in that he beat the candidates of the two major parties. He ran as the candidate of a coalition of right-wing and left-wing parties. The election is seen as a signal of the extreme discontent of the Venezuelan people with the course of Venezuelan politics.
Jan 1994 At least 119 people died in Venezuela's worst prison riot. The riots in the overcrowded prisons began with a fight between indigenous (mostly Wayuu) and white inmates. An estimated 250 members of the Wayuu group were to be transferred to other facilities and reportedly started fires and carried out attacks on other inmates. Wayuu leaders charged that they were being used as scapegoats. Members of the Yucpa tribe are agitating for the return of lands from the government. They are setting fire to ranches and blocking highways in their claimed territory.
Feb 1994 Women of the Yucpa indigenous group attempted to block Venezuelan soldiers from taking wood that they had cut, and the military allegedly responded by firing into the crowd of Yucpas indiscriminately. Three Yucpas were killed, and a large group of Yucpas took over several ranches and blocked roads to protest the killings. The investigation of these killings was halted in March 1994 due to a jurisdictional dispute between military and civilian courts. No arrests had been made in relation to the killings by the end of 1994. (U.S. Department of State, March 1995)
Feb 2, 1994 Government troops fire on members of the Yucpa indigenous tribe killing several members. Contrary to Yucpa claims, the government troops say they were being attacked with knives and guns. The government troops were confiscating supplies the Yucpa supposedly acquired illegally.
Feb 16, 1994 Ciro Anez, Venezuela's Agricultural Minister, announces that the Yucpas and the government have agreed to turn their ancestral lands into an indigenous reserve of 10,000 hectares.
Apr 14, 1994 Venezuela bombs a clandestine airstrip constructed by goldminers, the third such bombing since Operation Parima began in late March. The goal is to destroy gold miners' airstrips and confiscate equipment and machinery.
Jun 1994 The Amazon Parliament, made up of representatives from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela, discussed the need for legislation regarding the protection of biodiversity resources in the Amazon basin. They also discussed the need for greater protection against gold mining which threatens the continued existence of indigenous peoples and the biological diversity of the environment.
Jul 1994 The Venezuelan Congress votes to restore civil liberties following their suspension under Perez. However, President Caldera immediately signs a new decree suspending them again. He also has moved to give the police increased powers for detaining people and seizing property.
Sep 1994 Prostitution among Yanomami women is growing along the border with Brazil and Venezuela because of the intrusion of Brazilian goldminers. Analysts are troubled as the resort to prostitution displays both the desperate economic situation of the Yanomami and the erosion of their culture.
Feb 1, 1995 The United States State Department released its annual human rights report on Venezuela. The State Department reported that human rights violations such as killings by police and the military, abuse of prisoners, and impunity were commonplace in Venezuela in 1994. It was also reported that the Venezuelan government demonstrated a "lack of respect for the rights of indigenous people" (Inter Press Service, February 1, 1995) and failed to prosecute anyone in relation to the summer 1993 massacre of approximately 16-17 Yanomami Indians by Brazilian gold miners. However, the New York Times reported that although the killings took place in Venezuela, Brazil agreed to prosecute the case because witnesses claimed that the group of raiding miners all consisted of Brazilians. Human Rights Watch read complaints against both Brazil and Venezuela before the Inter-American Commission, which is part of the Organization of American States. The Washington Times would later report that Omar Gonzalez, the director of Venezuela's Indian affairs office, claimed that three Brazilian gold miners were convicted of killing the Yanomamis in a Brazilian court, but they only spent six months in jail. Gonzalez stated that the convicted miners were freed sometime in 1994 after a miners' union bribed a judge. (Inter Press Service, February 1, 1995; The New York Times, June 29, 1995; November 7, 1995, The Washington Times)
Feb 1995 Representatives of the 19 indigenous groups of Amazonas state brought a case to the Venezuelan Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of a law that defines political boundaries and common land within the state of Amazonas. These indigenous groups claimed that the law, which was circulated in 1994, endangered their collective possession of ancestral lands and did not respect traditional indigenous forms of decision-making. (U.S. Department of State, March 1996; U.S. Department of State, February 1997)
Mar 3, 1995 Members of the Andean Pact united to seek a joint strategy on stopping transnational corporations from exploiting their genetic resources and biodiversity in the region. This comes after new U.S. intellectual property rights which allow corporations to patent genetic material in other nations.
Mar 16, 1995 Peaceful anti-government demonstrations were staged in a number of cities throughout Ecuador. The government initially feared that these demonstrations would lead to violence, but none was reported. (The Fresno Bee, March 17, 1995)
Apr 1995 Government investigators found a mass grave in the remote Sierra de Leon region of the state of Zulia. Human rights activists estimate the number of bodies at around 15. There is strong speculation that they were smallscale farmers who came in to conflict with ranch owners. From 1991 to the beginning of 1995, the Venezuelan Corporation of Guyana, the agency which oversees the preservation of the forests, has distributed concessions to more than 3.5 million acres for mining. State officials accuse the agency of corruption and have demanded a congressional investigation.
Jul 5, 1995 President Caldera restored various civil liberties that had been suspended since June 1994 because the "emergency circumstances (that compelled authorities to suspend these rights)…have been surmounted and taken under control," according to President Caldera. (Tass, July 6, 1995; The Economist, July 8, 1995)
Aug 1 - Sep 30, 1995 Wayuu Indians from Zulia state were highly affected by equine encephalitis and dengue fever epidemics. (U.S. Department of State, March 1996)
Sep 1995 Demonstrations were carried out in Merida, and one student was killed in the intial wave of protests. This student's death prompted several days of violent protest, and the provincial governor utilized the military to quell the protestors. (U.S. Department of State, March 1996)
Oct 11, 1995 Nearly 20,000 students, professors, and workers marched in Caracas to push for a higher budget for the public university system. Five vehicles were burned and several people were injured as 4000 police and National Guardsmen attempted to disperse the demonstrators. (The News Tribune [Tacoma, WA], October 11, 1995)
Dec 1995 Venezuela's former ruling party, the Democratic Action Party, claimed the lead in regional polls to select governors, mayors, and local councilors on December 5. The Democratic Action Party claimed victory in at least 13 of 22 gubernatorial elections, while President Caldera's Convergence Party won only one governorship. On December 11, Venezuela's exchange rate was devalued as an attempt to redress the country's economic imbalances. In addition, the Supreme Court declared null a 1994 law defining political boundaries in Amazonas state because it was passed "without the required consultations with the affected population" (U.S. Department of State, February 1997). In February 1995, 19 indigenous groups of Amazonas state brought the case to the Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of this law. Inter Press Service noted that the Venezuelan Constitution allows for different forms of municipal regime and sets an exception for the indigenous communities, and both national laws and international conventions protect the indigenous peoples' rights to land and their traditional ways of life. (Union Bank of Switzerland Country Report, December 1995; The Christian Science Monitor, December 5, 1995; U.S. Department of State, February 1997; Inter Press Service, March 5, 1997)
Jan 8, 1996 Venezuelan Defense Minister Division General Moises Orozco Graterol visited the Perija Mountain Range and voiced his discontent over Colombia's plan to accuse Venezuela of violating the human rights of Colombian citizens. (The British Broadcasting Corporation, January 8, 1996)
Jan 23 - Feb 11, 1996 Venezuelans engaged in 18 days of protests over a bus fare increase and a proposed increase in gas prices. Cars were burned and homemade bombs were set off during the protests. Students protested and rioted in the streets, objecting to increased public transportation fares. Former golpista Hugo Chavez also led demonstrations in Caracas. Workers also demanded increased pay raises and respect for their rights as workers. On February 10 and 11, the protests were halted during a visit by Pope John Paul II, as roughly 40,000 soldiers and police officers were sent to prevent protestors from demonstrating. (The New York Times, February 12, 1996; Latin American Newsletters, February 8, 1996)
Mar 1996 President Caldera raised gasoline prices as part of a package of economic reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund in order for Venezuela to have its debt rescheduled. This rise in gasoline prices, combined with a decreasing value in the national currency and increasing inflation, caused protests to arise in Caracas, Maracaibo, Maracay, Valencia Barquisimeto, Ciudad Guayana, and Barcelona. In response to these protests, President Caldera restructured his cabinet. In addition, roughly 200,000 workers marched in various cities (San Cristobal, Merida, Barinas, San Carlos, Acarigua, Valera, Cumana, and San Fernando, to name a few) on March 19 to demand an increase in wages. Union officials stated that teachers also pressed for a national strike and government employees called a two-day walkout on March 19. 700,000 public sector employees also held a general strike in mid-March, demanding pay raises and the re-opening of negotiations with the Venezuelan government. Finally, the U.S. Department of State released its annual human rights report on Venezuela. The Department of State claimed that the Venezuelan government's human rights record continued to be poor in the areas of extrajudicial killings by the police and military, torture and abuse of those who had been arrested, arbitrary and excessively lengthy detentions, corruption and inefficiency in the judicial and law enforcement sectors, awful prison conditions, failure to punish police and security officers who were guilty of committing human rights violations (except in a few high profile cases), and a lack of respect for the rights of indigenous Venezuelans. The report noted that many demonstrations in Venezuela involved violence and were suppressed by the police. Hooded youths called "encapuchados" were especially prone to instigating violence. Security forces also contained or stopped several peaceful protests. The report cited PROVEA in its statement that 4 people were killed, 82 injured, and 521 detained during demonstrations from October 1994 through September 1995. The Department of State noted that Venezuelan women and nonwhites participate fully in the Venezuelan government but are underrepresented in senior leadership positions. The report also claimed that indigenous people in particular have traditionally not been integrated into the political system, and the reasons for this are as follows lack of knowledge of the political system, low voter turnout, and rural residency far from the capital and other cities. Few indigenous people were in the Venezuelan government, and only one indigenous person was a deputy in Congress. While Venezuelan law prohibited discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, or disability, it was reported that indigenous people frequently had their human rights ignored and violated. In addition, the Venezuelan government did not properly enforce laws that protect the rights of indigenous people and their communities and that provide for the incorporation of indigenous people in the social, political, and economic systems. The report also noted that indigenous people possess no influence in relation to decisions that affect the allocation of natural resources and their lands, culture, and traditions. Many indigenous Venezuelans also live in isolated areas and lack access to basic health and educational facilities. Indigenous people are prone to contracting cholera, hepatitis-B, malaria, and other diseases. The report claimed that tourists also introduced new viruses such as the common cold and chicken pox to indigenous populations that aren't prepared to deal with these diseases. Finally, the Department of State reported that few indigenous communities possess title to their lands, and many indigenous people had been displaced in recent years by government-sponsored projects. Fertilizer and machinery had polluted rivers, strip mining and large-scale farming had destroyed indigenous habitats, and Yanomami Indian territory had been the subject of frequent illegal incursions by Brazilian gold miners. (Agence France Presse, March 19, 1996; Americas Review World of Information, August 1996; U.S. Department of State, March 1996)
Mar 21, 1996 The France-based International Herald Tribune reported that the American Anthropological Association had protested the seizing of Yanomami lands in Brazil and Venezuela by gold miners. (International Herald Tribune [Neuilly-sur-Seine, France], March 21, 1996)
Apr 1996 Venezuelan authorities floated the national currency and increased sales taxes. Along with the March increase in gasoline prices, these actions allowed Venezuela to reach an agreement in-principle with the IMF for a $1.4 million standby in its loan payment. With the assistance of the World Bank and IDB, the total financial assistance package for Venezuela amounted to $3 billion. In an attempt to stem expected further protest over increased gas prices, subsidies were provided to public and private transport employees. (The Economist, April 27, 1996; Americas Review World of Information, August 1996)
May 1, 1996 The Venezuelan government announced further "belt-tightening" economic measures on Labor Day. Due to the drop in worker purchasing power, disturbances occurred in the cities of Cabimas and San Felipe throughout the week of Labor Day. United Press International also reported that unemployment had been officially reported as ten percent, though several independent sources claimed that this figure should be twenty percent. (United Press International, May 1, 1996)
May 27, 1996 700,000 civil servants went on strike to support demands for the immediate payment of wage increases that were recently granted. (Agence France Presse, May 27, 1996)
Jun 1, 1996 Public employees participated in a one-day strike, demanding $320 in unpaid bonuses. In addition, the Orinoco River flooded and left nearly 10,000 Amazonian indigenous people homeless. (The Economist, June 1, 1996; Denver Rocky Mountain News, June 1, 1996)
Jun 1996 A dozen public transport buses were set afire in a poor neighborhood in Caracas, reportedly as a result of clashes between activists and Venezuelan police. Amnesty International and the Venezuelan government also engaged in a non-physical confrontation over AI's report that officers accused of extrajudicial killings during the Caldera administration had not been properly punished. (Inter Press Service, June 25, 1996)
Jul 1996 The first nationwide meeting of indigenous Venezuelan women took place in Caracas. Participants pledged to fight against any attempts to "acculturate or wipe out the country's 38 indigenous groups," and the "evils of alcoholism, sexual violence and drugtrafficking, and negligence by the state" (Latin American Newsletters, Ltd., September 5, 1996) were cited as things to resist. In addition, a report was released that predicted the "imminent extinction" of indigenous Venezuelans. (Latin American Newsletters, Ltd., September 5, 1996)
Aug 14, 1996 The U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Racial Prejudice convened, and the Venezuelan government presented a report outlining the measures that it is instituting to fulfill the requirements laid out by the U.N. Convention Against Racial Discrimination. In the report, the Venezuelan government admitted that discrimination may exist in Venezuelan society, but discrimination was not legally encoded. However, one member of the committee claimed that the Venezuelan soap opera "Casandra" presents the white sectors "as the cream of society and their relation with the gypsies, who are the victims of racial discrimination" (Inter Press Service, August 14, 1996). Another member of the committee, Regis de Gouttes, focused an attack on the Venezuelan legal code, claiming that the code did not include any type of penalty for racist acts, except a ban on racial-oriented propaganda and ideological organizations. De Gouttes presented statements made by the National Indigenous Council of Venezuela in which the council complained of the great deal of discrimination faced by indigenous Venezuelans in the administration of justice, in health services, in education, and in teaching. De Gouttes also claimed that the death rate amongst indigenous Venezuelans was disproportionately high amongst native groups. Luis Valencia Rodriguez, Ecuadorian expert and the committee member in charge of the Venezuelan report, stated that the Venezuelan legal system also did not offer compensation to victims of racial discrimination. Rodriguez cited the well-known cases of the massacre of Yanomamis by Brazilian gold miners and the payment of gunmen by landowners in the state of Zulia. (Inter Press Service, August 14, 1996)
Sep 6, 1996 Roughly 60 Wayuu Indians from the Venezuela-Colombia border occupied the Italian consulate in Maracaibo, protesting the possible loss of their lands to Italian investors and demanding a meeting with the governor of Zulia province. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, September 6, 1996)
Oct 1996 Flooding caused epidemics among Yanomami Indians in the rain forests of Venezuela. In addition, about 5000 court workers (court secretaries, administrative assistants, doormen, and drivers) went on strike on October 21, shutting down the Venezuelan judicial system and demanding payment of a $38 monthly bonus promised to them in February 1996. (The Atlanta Journal, October 17, 1996; The Fresno Bee, October 22, 1996)
Oct 30, 1996 Venezuelan students clashed with police in Caracas during a protest against an IMF-related economic policy that students blamed for causing hunger amongst poverty-stricken Venezuelans. Students allegedly threw rocks and firebombs, and one riot policeman and a television journalist were injured in the conflict. No arrests were reported. (USA Today, October 30, 1996)
Nov 4, 1996 Bari Indian leader Jose Aragdou claimed that Tecpetrol, an Argentine oil company, was encroaching upon Bari (1500 members) territory in the Perija mountain range of Zulia state under the concession of Maraven, a state-owned Venezuelan oil company. Tecpetrol halted its exploration activities as a result of Bari protests. Among other indigenous groups, Yucpas and Guarijas were also protesting oil company activities in their territories. (United Press International, November 4, 1996)
Nov 6, 1996 Venezuela's public employees, who constitute sixteen percent of the country's eight million workers, informed the government that they want a 25 percent pay raise in the contracts that were currently being negotiated with the government. The public employees' union also stated that it was seeking cost-of-living increases to match the high inflation rate. (The Dayton Daily News, November 6, 1996)
Jan 8, 1997 Governors of 15 out of the 23 Venezuelan states and federal territories requested that striking public health medics return to work and provide at least minimal emergency care to Venezuelans. By January 8, the medics had been striking for eleven days. The governors condemned the strike and expressed unconditional support for the harsh oppositional stance to the strikers taken by the Venezuelan government. Reportedly, more than 10 people had died thus far due to medic refusal to provide emergency medical care. (TASS, January 8, 1997)
Feb 1997 Approximately 300 delegates from the 19 indigenous groups that reside in Amazonas state met and decided to divide their territory into municipal areas under the Supreme Court's December 1995 decision to uphold indigenous peoples' right to participate in the territorial division of Amazonas state (an annulling a previous law that prevented such participation). Following the meeting, a mass march to Puerto Ayacucho, the state capital, was carried out and the regional parliament was presented with the indigenous groups' proposal. The bill would then be presented to Congress, who had yet to approve the indigenous proposal. The proposal called for the creation of seven new municipal areas (one more than under the annulled law), including a possible separate area for the Yanomami Indians living on the Venezuela-Brazil border. The proposal also requested that a form of collective government be instituted, wherein a coordinator "who will act as a servant who will encourage and defend the rights of the community" (Inter Press Service, March 5, 1997) would replace the mayor. Inter Press Service reported that religious groups and organizations in Amazonas supported indigenous groups and their proposal because the municipal divisions under the annulled law divided ethnic groups and forced historical ethnic enemies to coexist with each other. Inter Press Service noted that the Amazonas constitution defined that state as "multiethnic and pluricultural, consecrating respect for the cultures, traditions, and collective land tenure of the indigenous peoples, protected by reserves, national parks, and a ban on mining activity until the year 2050" (Inter Press Service, March 5, 1997). Indigenous people of Amazonas state that live outside of Puerto Ayacucho constitute 95 percent of the state's population, according to a 1992 indigenous census. (Inter Press Service, March 5, 1997)
Feb 14, 1997 Professors from several universities marched through Caracas, demanding a larger educational budget and increased salaries for university staff. (Inter Press Service, February 14, 1997)
Feb 26, 1997 Inter Press Service reported that environmental, academic, cultural, indigenous, and feminist groups, as well as scientists and individuals from the fields of oil, anthropology, law, agriculture, and the arts, had banded together to form the Oil Alert Network. This Network warned that continued intensive oil exploitation would severely damage Venezuelan ecosystems and indigenous communities. The Network pledged to take legal action against an agreement between a state-run oil company and British Petroleum (BP) that allowed BP to operate an oil field in the Orinoco delta region, one of the world's largest wetland areas. The Network also became a branch of Oilwatch International, a U.S.-based NGO dedicated to defending the environment and indigenous people from encroachment by oil companies, and adopted the name Orinoco Oilwatch. (Inter Press Service, February 26, 1997)
May 1997 Daily protests by students at Venezuelan Central University were directed at increased bus fare, among other issues. Many of these protests included burning vehicles and damaging property, but injuries were rare. In an attempt to stop the protests at the end of May, university authorities announced that security would be increased on the campus in Caracas and students participating in the protests would be handed over to the police. Newsday noted that police are not permitted to enter universities to pursue students under Venezuelan law. (Newsday [New York, NY], June 1, 1997)
May 29, 1997 The Toronto-based Financial Post reported that Venezuelan Indians, congressmen, and local and foreign pressure groups have voiced opposition to foreign companies and their search for oil reserves in the Orinoco River's delta region. While most of the criticism had been directed at British Petroleum Co. PLC, the only company that was currently operating in the delta region, recent scrutiny had been focused on the prospecting actions and profit-sharing plans (with the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela) of Conoco, Amoco, Louisiana Land Exploration, and Enron. Jesus Jimenez, national congressman for the Delta Amacuro province, stated, "neither the Warao [Indians] nor any residents of the area were consulted or considered before the oil companies moved in." Catalina Herrera, a Warao leader, said that Warao Indians fear that oil operations will negatively affect their fishing and hunting grounds. (The Financial Post [Toronto], May 29, 1997)
Jul 3, 1997 About 500 protestors marched through Caracas to protest a government plan to develop the Imataca tropical forest reserve, which lies near the border with Guyana, into a gold mining project. The protestors included opposition politicians, environmentalists, and Pemon Indian leaders, and they claimed that the plan would turn mining activities in the Imataca region over to foreign companies. Thus far, the government had moved forward with plans to develop the area despite the protests. (Mining Journal, July 4, 1997; The Financial Post [Toronto], July 4, 1997)
Aug 1997 The First International Seminar of Indigenous Peoples was held in the Brazilian town of Boa Vista, and indigenous leaders representing 35,000 people from Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela were in attendance. At the meeting, leaders discussed the potential impact of proposed development projects (roads, power lines, waterways, pipelines, oil refineries, etc.) that aimed to promote free trade on the Brazil-Guyana-Venezuela border region. Common land boundaries were also discussed. The Venezuelan Indigenous Confederation (CONIVE, also known as the National Indigenous Council) and the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) of Guyana called on the Brazilian, Guyanian, and Venezuelan governments to protect indigenous land rights and the environment prior to constructing a 685 kilometer power line from the Guri hydroelectric dam on the Caroni River in Venezuela to supply electricity to Boa Vista and Roraima state. This line would cut through several indigenous communities in Brazil and Venezuela, and indigenous groups possessed the added fear that the line would lead to processing and manufacturing development as it provides electricity to gold mining and logging companies operating in the Imataca region. (Inter Press Service, January 18, 1998)
Aug 9, 1997 Oil workers, civil servants, and other trade unionists participated in a one-day strike against IMF-encouraged price increases. (The Economist, August 9, 1997)
Oct 30, 1997 Venezuelan police and US Drug Enforcement Agency agents raided a ship in the Caribbean port of Puerto Cabello, confiscating nearly three tons of cocaine. The bust was the second largest in Venezuelan history. (AAP Newsfeed, October 30, 1997)
Nov 13, 1997 More than 65,000 Venezuelan oil workers staged a 12-hour strike in an attempt to get the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), to make concessions in contact talks. Contract talks had so far touched on housing and retirement issues but ignored wage issues. Unions representing the workers desired a 250 percent salary increase, due to the 103 percent inflation of 1996. These unions also warned that an indefinite strike would occur within 10 days if PDVSA did not attend to the wage issues. Tulsa World noted that Venezuela is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States. (The Houston Chronicle, November 9, 1997; Tulsa World, November 13, 1997)
Feb 17, 1998 Inter Press Service reported that the Study Group on Women and the Environment (GEMA), which forms part of the Coordinator of Non-Governmental Women's Organizations, claimed that the use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals on large Venezuelan plantations led to increased risk of miscarriages and fetal malformations among Venezuelan peasant women. According to the author of a book entitled Lo Oculto en lo Femenino, peasant women are the "poorest of the poor" (Inter Press Service, February 17, 1998) in the Venezuelan rural sectors. She claimed that oil companies had exploited indigenous women inVenezuela. She cited clashes between mestizo and Warao indigenous culture in the delta region of the Orinoco region as a product of oil exploration. Inter Press Service also reported that an environmental group called Integracion Livista was putting forth efforts to clean up the Castan river, which supplies water to residents of a Venezuelan city located in the Andean mountain region. (Inter Press Service, February 17, 1998)
Mar 22, 1998 Venezuelan firefighters joined Brazilian firefighters in attempting to put out enormous fires in Brazil's northern Amazon region, which had recently moved into Yanomami Indian territory in Venezuela. (AAP Newsfeed, March 22, 1998)
Apr 13, 1998 On the closing day of the 13th meeting of the Indigenous Parliament of the Americas (PIA), Jesus Jimenez, the sole Venezuelan indigenous national deputy, claimed that disease and malnutrition continue to wreak havoc on Venezuelan indigenous communities. The meeting was held in Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay. (The Irish Times, April 13, 1998)
May 11, 1998 General Charles Wilhelm, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, warned that the rebel war in Colombia was spilling over into Panama, Ecuador, and Venezuela. U.S. News and World Report noted that several thousand Colombian refugees had already crossed into Venezuela, forcing the Venezuelan government to move 2000 troops to that area. (U.S. News & World Report, May 11, 1998)
May 18, 1998 United States federal authorities indicted four Venezuelan banks (Banco del Caribe, Banco Industrial de Venezuela, International Finance Bank, and Banco Consolidado) and five Venezuelan individuals in connection with laundering $9.5 million in illegal drug trafficking proceeds. (The Herald-Sun [Durham, N.C.], May 21, 1998)
Jun 16, 1998 U.S.-based Human Rights Watch reported that Venezuela's jails were "overcrowded and crumbling…the most dangerous in the world…and becoming increasingly violent" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 17, 1998). Human Rights Watch claimed that Venezuelan jails were understaffed and gangs of inmates were rampant. According to this group, 336 murders occurred in Venezuelan jails in 1997. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 17, 1998)
Jul 7, 1998 Venezuelan officials publicly restated their commitment to developing the Imataca forest region for gold mining purposes despite increasing protests by environmentalists, legislators, and indigenous groups. (Business Day [South Africa], July 10, 1998)
Jul 27 - Aug 16, 1998 Between 400 and 1000 members of the Karina, Pemon, Arawak, and Akawaio indigenous groups blocked the main Venezuelan highway in San Jose that leads to Brazil from July 27 until August 14, protesting the construction of a power line in the region and increasing destruction of the Imataca forest and demanding that the government respect their ancestral lands. Eventually, the indigenous protestors let all traffic not related to the construction of the power line through. On August 12, Venezuelan National Guardsmen knocked down roughly 20 Pemon tents and used tanks to intimidate indigenous protestors near El Dorado. The roadblock ended on August 14, two days prior to a meeting between the regional government, indigenous representatives, and Venezuela's ministers of the environment and agriculture. The Bolivar Indigenous Federation (FIB) claimed that the power line was being constructed without consulting the indigenous groups it will affect, and FIB noted that Venezuela ratified Convention 107 of the International Labor Organization, which protects "the demand for title deeds recognizing ancestral lands as the collective property of indigenous communities" (Inter Press Service, August 14, 1998). In addition, according to the Indigenous Federation of the State of Bolivar in southeastern Venezuela, logging companies working south of the Orinoco River had destroyed roughly 2000 hectares of jungle terrain. (The Toronto Star, July 29, 1998; Inter Press Service, July 30, 1998; The Houston Chronicle, July 30, 1998; Nottingham Evening Post, August 13, 1998; Inter Press Service, August 14, 1998)
Sep 1998 Moises Orozco, governor of Caracas, banned a planned march by health service doctors in the midst of an extended strike by these doctors. The doctors were protesting spending cuts and increased interest rates, among other things. (Latin American Newsletters, Ltd., October 6, 1998)
Nov 1998 The head of the Amapa state division of FUNAI, the federal Indian agency, was fired after publicizing unconfirmed reports that Cuxa Indians had killed eleven gold prospectors to avenge a prospector attack on a village in Tumucumaque national park. (Latin American Newsletters, Ltd., November 24, 1998)
Nov 4, 1998 Approximately 100 Pemon Indians demonstrated in front of the Brazilian embassy in Venezuela, protesting against the electric line being constructed in the Venezuelan Amazonian region. (Nottingham Evening Post, November 4, 1998)
Nov 9, 1998 Hugo Chavez's leftist Patriotic Pole coalition won a big Congressional electoral victory in Venezuela. With 67 percent of the vote counted, the coalition had captured 34 percent of the congressional seats, while the two political parties (center-left Democratic Action Party – 22 percent of the seats; conservative Copei Party – 11 percent of the seats) that had ruled Venezuela since democracy was restored in the late 1950s suffered major electoral setbacks. Chavez was arrested for leading a failed coup attempt in 1992 and served two years in prison as a result. One former coup participant was elected president of the Senate and another was re-elected governor of Zulia state. (The Seattle Times, November 9, 1998; The Commercial Appeal [Memphis, TN], November 10, 1998; Telegraph Herald [Dubuque, IA], February 21, 1999)
Nov 23, 1998 Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso unveiled a new 580-mile stretch of highway linking the Brazilian cities of Boa Vista and Manaus. Indigenous groups had protested against the power line being built near the highway for a lengthy period of time. (The Houston Chronicle, November 24, 1998)
Dec 6, 1998 Hugo Chavez won the Venezuelan presidential elections by a landslide 57 percent. Venezuelan peasants and those who were poverty-stricken heavily supported Chavez in his presidential bid. The Washington Times reported that 80 percent of Venezuelan society lived in extreme poverty, despite the great deal of revenue it receives due to its oil exports. Chavez would be inaugurated on February 2, and he would go on to appoint former coup participants to top positions, including Caracas governor, transportation minister, secret police chief, and head of taxation. Chavez also would appoint two active army colonels to top positions in the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela. In addition, on February 1, 1999, Chavez would announce his 10-member cabinet, and one of the two women that he chose was Atala Uriana, a Guajira Guayu Indian (the largest ethnic indigenous group in Venezuela). Uriana, chosen to be head of the environment ministry, was the first Indian ever appointed to a government position. Uriana was a human rights advocate and allegedly in opposition to further development in the Imataca forest region. (The Washington Times, December 1, 1998; The New York Times, November 10, 1998; Agence France Presse, December 6, 1998; The Xinhua News Agency, Febuary 1, 1999; Telegraph Herald [Dubuque, IA], February 21, 1999)
Feb 2, 1999 President-elect Chavez was sworn in and signed a presidential decree establishing a national referendum on whether Venezuelans want to form a constitutional assembly. In his inauguration speech, Chavez vowed to fight political corruption and overhaul the current Venezuelan constitution. Chavez proposed a constitutional assembly that would consist of a unicameral assembly tasked with drafting a Venezuelan constitution in six months. 104 regional (states and the Federal District), 24 national, and 3 indigenous representatives would be elected to the assembly via direct, universal suffrage. Political parties would be permitted to nominate candidates, but senior public officials (e.g. congressmen, mayors, judges, etc.) and members of the armed forces would be excluded. Chavez demanded that the assembly be granted unconditional powers and that it be limited only by "the principles of human rights and democracy, the state's national and international agreements, and the country's historical values" (Financial Times [London], March 11, 1999). In August 1999, Chavez would go on to claim that the new constitution should reflect the principles supported by South American liberator Simon Bolivar and reject free-market economics as the sole approach to development. (The Columbian [Vancouver, WA], February 2, 1999; Financial Times [London], March 11, 1999; BBC Monitoring, June 16, 1999; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 6, 1999)
Feb 22, 1999 With a televised address, President Chavez launched his "Bolivar 2000 social revolution," calling for civilians and the military to act in concert to reverse Venezuela's economic woes. He stated that 70,000 military and government workers would begin instituting the plan on February 27, and this plan included "help for the most needy, social organization and productive work programs, and a wide-ranging plan of sustainable development" (Agence France Presse, February 22, 1999). He denied that his plan promoted militarization, and instead insisted that it promoted themes of "unification…(and) the incorporation of all Venezuelans, in uniform or not, black, white, or yellow" (Agence France Presse, February 22, 1999). As part of the address, Chavez listed the following statistics 80 percent live in poverty, 39 percent in extreme poverty, 14 percent are destitute, 15 percent are unemployed, and 50 percent are employed in the informal sector. (Agence France Presse, February 22, 1999)
Mar 23, 1999 AAP Newsfeed reported that thousands of homeless Venezuelans had been taking over vacant buildings and lots throughout Venezuela. President Chavez refused to call in the National Guard to deal with these homeless "takeovers," a move that outraged state governors and local police, who claimed they have too little resources to deal with the homeless people, as well as the president's critics, who claimed that he was allowing homeless people to break the law. (AAP Newsfeed, March 23, 1999)
Apr 8 - 9, 1999 President Chavez threatened to declare a state of emergency if Congress refused to pass an "enabling law" that would permit Chavez to rule by decree on important economic issues. Congress passed a law on March 27, 1999 that would have given Chavez more power, but Chavez vetoed it, claiming that it didn't provide him with enough power. Chavez also vowed to extend his term from five to ten years. On April 13, 1999, opposition leaders would join Senator Timoteo Zambrano of the opposition Democratic Action Party in protesting "Chavez's disrespect for the checks and balances of a democracy" and in appealing "to the international community to help ensure democracy" (St. Petersburg Times, April 13, 1999) after Chavez made his aforementioned threats. (The Herald-Sun [Durham, N.C.], April 9, 1999; St. Petersburg Times, April 13, 1999)
Apr 14 - 15, 1999 Hundreds of Chavez's supporters blocked the capitol building's entrance, preventing congresspersons from leaving or exiting the building. The demonstrators demanded that Congress be dissolved. (Austin American-Statesman, April 15, 1999)
Apr 25, 1999 In a national referendum, Venezuelans overwhelmingly approved a Chavez-backed proposal to convene a national assembly to draft a new Venezuelan constitution and elect members to this assembly. This assembly would mark the first time indigenous Venezuelans would be able to participate in the formulation of constitutional rights. (The Washington Post, April 25, 1999; The New York Times, April 26, 1999; The British Broadcasting Corporation, July 21, 1999)
Apr 27, 1999 President Chavez approved a new "enabling law" that would allow him to rule by decree on economic and social matters for the following six months after rejecting an earlier version of the law at the beginning of April. The new version of this "enabling law" also raised the value-added tax and placed a new levy on financial transactions. (The New York Times, April 27, 1999)
May 11, 1999 Venezuela accepted a proposal by Colombian rebels to take part in peace talks between the rebels and the Colombian government. (The Houston Chronicle, May 11, 1999)
Jul 2, 1999 The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that President Chavez urged the Constituent Assembly to dissolve Congress when it would convene in August 1999.The Post-Dispatch also reported that the Supreme Court had ruled that the Chavez-backed plan of temporarily shutting down Congress and the Supreme Court would be unconstitutional, a ruling that Chavez rejected. Congress had also recently rejected several promotions that Chavez requested. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 2, 1999)
Jul 17 - 19, 1999 Roughly 600 representatives from 28 to 34 indigenous groups that reside in Venezuela met at the Venezuelan Indigenous Congress/National Indigenous Council (CONIVE) in Caracas and elected the three indigenous representatives to the Constitutional Assembly, who had been chosen in March 1999 by indigenous delegates Noheli Pocaterra (a Wayuu Indian, Jose Luis Gonzalez (a Pemon Indian), and Guillermo Guevara (a Karina Indian). The Venezuelan National Electoral Council (NEC) initially rejected the choice of these three representatives in March because it had not supervised the election. CONIVE rejected the NEC's demand that it supervise the electoral process, but an agreement by both CONIVE and the NEC to conduct a joint process was later reached. The NEC once again questioned the legitimacy of CONIVE's choices at the July17-19 meeting. The NEC objected to the choice of Guevara, claiming that he was born in Colombia and was only a naturalized Venezuelan. While CONIVE vowed to solve the problem of choosing Guevara, the NEC warned CONIVE that it should have chosen a replacement representative and now risked having one less representative in the Constitutional Assembly. In addition, on July 19, the NEC's offices were invaded by indigenous people who disagreed with the ratification of the three representatives elected in March 1999. These protestors claimed that the election of these representatives was a corrupt and "manipulative" process carried out by CONIVE. On August 12, Inter Press Service noted that a major demand expressed by CONIVE was the recognition of Venezuela as a multicultural nation in which many languages were spoken. (Inter Press Service, July 19, 1999; The British Broadcasting Corporation, July 21, 1999; Inter Press Service, August 12, 1999)
Jul 20 - 23, 1999 The second Tri-Country Indigenous Peoples' Summit was held in the Venezuelan city of Churuata in Bolivar state, and was attended by indigenous representatives from Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela. Over 75 representatives of indigenous groups from the three countries gathered to share information and discuss strategies about how to approach issues related to development that they share in common. (The British Broadcasting Corporation, July 21, 1999)
Jul 25, 1999 The election of the non-indigenous members of the Constituent Assembly was held, and President Chavez's supporters gained an overwhelming majority (92%) of the 131 seats in the assembly. A week earlier on July 16, President Chavez agreed to obey the Venezuelan electoral authority and cease campaigning and organizing street demonstrations in support of his backers in their bids to be elected to the assembly, and he also agreed to pay a fine for his actions. (The Washington Times, July 16, 1999; The New York Times, July 30, 1999; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 12, 1999)
Aug 3, 1999 The Constitutional Assembly convened in Caracas and began discussions on the rewriting of the Venezuelan constitution. (Agence France Presse, August 3, 1999)
Aug 11, 1999 President Chavez took the presidential oath once again, after the Constitutional Assembly ratified him as president. Chavez had officially allowed the assembly to decide whether or not he should keep his job. Chavez also apparently asked Congress and the Supreme Court to do the same, though he backed away from making such comments in an interview one week earlier. In addition, Chavez fired the commander of the Venezuelan army, General Noel Martinez Ochoa, and replaced him with the presidential Chief of Staff, General Lucas Rincon Romero. Chavez claimed that a number of Ochoa's "activities" were being investigated. (The New York Times, August 11, 1999; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 12, 1999)
Aug 12, 1999 Community Learning Centers organized and UNICEF sponsored a gathering of 100 children from 24 indigenous groups in Venezuela. The gathering was held in Caracas, and the children drafted a document listing their demands that was presented to the Constitutional Assembly. The demands consisted of "the need for access to education, health care, and public services, while demanding respect for their cultures, traditions, and languages" (Inter Press Service, August 12, 1999). Children from the Yukpa Indian group that lives along the Venezuela-Colombia border protested the negative affects of cola mining in the region, and Warao children from the Orinoco delta region near the Venezuela-Guyana border protested against the pollution caused by oil companies. (Inter Press Service, August 12, 1999)
Aug 13, 1999 The Constitutional Assembly approved a restructuring of all public powers, and it gave itself the power to dissolve government entities. (Agence France Presse, August 13, 1999)
Aug 19 - 21, 1999 On August 19, the Constitutional Assembly declared a state of "judicial emergency," and gave itself the power to fire judges who were accused of wrongdoings and overhaul the Venezuelan court system, despite numerous warnings by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court that such action exceeded the Assembly's powers. The Assembly also created a commission tasked with overhauling the court system and initially excluded representatives from the Supreme Court and the national Judicial Council from participating in this commission. On August 21, the Assembly reversed this latter decision and allowed Supreme Court Justice Alirio Abreu Burelli and Nelly Morillo of the Judicial Council to participate in the commission. By September 9, 1999, nearly half of Venezuela's 4700 judges were allegedly facing charges of corruption or other misdeeds. (The New York Times, August 20, 1999; Star Tribune [Minneapolis, MN], August 21, 1999; Facts on File World Digest, September 9, 1999)
Aug 23, 1999 Following a number of kidnappings of Venezuelans in Colombia, President Chavez opened direct talks with Colombian guerillas in an attempt to lessen the impact of the Colombian state-guerilla conflict on Venezuela. In response, President Andres Pastrana of Colombia emphasized that Colombia "intends to solve its problems on its own" (The New York Times, August 23, 1999). (The New York Times, August 23, 1999)
Aug 23 - 24, 1999 The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitutional Assembly's decision to give itself new powers to fire judges and overtake the court system was not unconstitutional. Cecilia Sosa, the president of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, resigned to protest this ruling on August 24. (The Washington Times, August 25, 1999; Facts on File World Digest, September 9, 1999)
Aug 25 - 30, 1999 On August 25, the Constitutional Assembly banned the Venezuelan Congress from passing laws. The Congress consisted mostly of members from Venezuela's traditional parties who are in opposition to Chavez the Social Christian Party (COPEI) and Democratic Action (AD). Having not assembled since July 28 at the "respectful request" (Facts on File World News Digest, September 9, 1999) of the Assembly, congressional leaders reconvened on August 28 in defiance of the Assembly's above decree, promising to exercise some of its remaining powers and refuse to authorize both the money necessary for the Assembly's operation and Chavez's planned state visits to other countries in September 1999. Congress also sought the assistance of the Supreme Court "in its battle for survival" (Agence France Presse, August 30, 1999). However, the Assembly eventually stripped Congress of all of its powers on August 30 and barred congressional members from holding meetings. The United States reportedly expressed concern about the Assembly's actions. On August 27, in the midst of this congressional-Constitutional Assembly melee, supporters of President Chavez attempted to prevent opposition politicians from entering the Capitol building and clashed with the politicians and COPEI and AD supporters when the opposition politicians attempted to break through the crowd. Police fired water cannons to break up the clashes between Chavez supporters and opponents. Six people were injured. Later in the day on August 27, Roman Catholic Monsignor Herman Sanchez Porras, president of the Venezuelan Conference of Bishops, stated that the church had arranged an agreement between Congress and the Assembly to set up a joint commission to resolve disputes between themselves. Whether or not this commission was set up or not, it appears that the plan fell apart with the Assembly's actions on August 30, described above.
Sep 9, 1999 Facts on File World Digest stated "a majority of Venezuelans supported the drastic overhaul of government institutions that were widely seen as corrupt and incompetent" (Facts on File World Digest, September 9, 1999). (AAP Newsfeed, August 28, 1999; Agence France Presse, August 30, 1999 and August 31, 1999; Facts on File World Digest, September 9, 1999)
Sep 22 - 29, 1999 Calling themselves "Rainbow Warriors," Pemon Indians in Venezuela's Amazonian "Gran Sabana" region knocked down an electricity tower and blocked important highways that lead to Brazil to protest the construction of a power line in the region. These actions had effectively halted work on the power line. The Venezuelan government claimed that line will assist mining companies and provide electricity to villages in the region, but AAP Newsfeed reported that environmentalists opposed the line out of fear that it would harm the ecosystem and indigenous communities. (The Tampa Tribune, September 30, 1999; AAP Newsfeed, October 1, 1999)
Oct 3, 1999 President Chavez publicly stated that Venezuela "suffered and ‘injustice' a century ago when it lost two-thirds of what today is known as Guyana" (AAP Newsfeed, October 3, 1999). Chavez also reportedly said that he would seek redress for this loss. (AAP Newsfeed, October 3, 1999)
Oct 8, 1999 Inter Press Service reported that a Commission on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, composed of 11 members of the Constitutional Assembly, had submitted to the Assembly a series of proposals to be incorporated into the new constitution. The Commission cited the constitutions of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, and Peru as examples of documents that contained provisions for indigenous peoples. The Commission proposed that the constitution's preamble recognize "indigenous peoples as the country's native inhabitants," thereby making Venezuela a "multiethnic, multicultural, and multicultural nation" (Inter Press Service, October 8, 1999). The Commission also proposed that a chapter on indigenous issues and rights be included in the new constitution. In this chapter, the state should be required to "recognize the existence of indigenous peoples and communities, and respect their culture and linguistic diversity" and "indigenous land and territory should be collectively owned, inalienable, indivisible, and clearly demarcated with government support" (Inter Press Service, October 8, 1999). The Commission also proposed that this chapter "protect the economic practices of native communities, their intellectual property rights over ancestral knowledge, and their right to health services, education, and participation. In addition, the Commission asked that other parts of the constitution include provisions for specific "political-territorial" indigenous regions in Venezuela that would be "governed by a special regime" and for the definition of indigenous peoples born in neighboring countries to ethnic groups that have had a long-time presence in Venezuela as "Venezuelans by birth" (Inter Press Service, October 8, 1999).
Oct 22, 1999 Akawaio, Arawako, Pemon, and Karina indigenous leaders brought their demands for territorial sovereignty before the Constitutional Assembly. These indigenous groups opposed the construction of a joint electrical project with Brazil in the Gran Sabana region. These groups claimed that the power lines being constructed would bring about much environmental, social, cultural, and economic destruction to the region. Pemon Indians allegedly claimed that they "grew weary of protesting the power project with letters" (The Miami Herald, November 23, 1999). (Inter Press Service, October 22, 1999; The Miami Herald, November 23, 1999)
Nov 5, 1999 The Constitutional Assembly pushed through a measure extending the presidential term to six years and allowing the president to run for a second consecutive term. This measure had met much protest. (United Press International, November 5, 1999)
Nov 10, 1999 Venezuelan authorities suspended 73 judges, accusing them of corruption and incompetence. This brought the number suspended since the declaration of a "judicial emergency" at the end of August 1999 to almost 200. In addition, Inter Press Service reported that a study conducted by Datanalisis placed the Venezuelan unemployment level at 17.1 percent, the highest it had been in two decades. Government reports demonstrated that 50 percent of the 9.9 million people in the Venezuelan labor force worked in the informal economy and that 41 percent of the country's total population lived in "extreme" poverty (while an additional 39 percent lived in "relative" poverty, making much less than the minimum monthly salary of $200). Inter Press Service also reported that some delegates to the Constitutional Assembly, mainly former military officials, protested the inclusion of an indigenous right to ownership of ancestral lands in the draft constitution because they felt such a provision threatened the country's national sovereignty. Jorge Olavarria, an opposition representative in the Assembly, claimed that more than 50 percent of Venezuelan territory would be threatened if the provision were to be legalized. (Telegraph Herald [Dubuque, IA], November 11, 1999; Inter Press Service, November 11, 1999 and December 6, 1999)
Nov 29, 1999 Middle class people from Caracas staged a protest during a televised presidential speech. (Latin American Newsletters, Ltd., December 14, 1999)
Dec 14, 1999 Latin American Newsletters, Inc. reported that the opponents of the new Venezuelan constitution were the following "four members of the constituent assembly, many state governors and mayors, business leaders from (from Fedecamaras, Conindustria, and Consecomerico), the main trade union confederation, CTV, which is aligned with Accion Democratica, the media, the church, and those opposing the concentration of all senior military appointments in Chavez's hands" (Latin American Newsletters, Ltd., December 14, 1999).
Dec 22, 1999 In a December 27, 1999 Newsweek article, it was reported that a run-up to the December 15, 1999 national referendum on whether or not to approve the new constitution drafted by the Constitutional assembly was held on December 22. 71 percent of Venezuelans that participated in the run-up referendum voted in favor of the new constitution. Newsweek did note that despite its being approved, the new constitution did not win out by an overwhelming mandate because only 50 percent of those eligible to vote did so. This marked the fourth consecutive election and/or referendum in which the public supported Chavez's "peaceful revolution." Prior to the run-up referendum, Chavez organized a street demonstration that effectively severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church, and some fighting occurred during this demonstration. Newsweek claimed that Chavez had "ideologically and politically" split Venezuelan society into those who supported him and those who were opposed to him, and those who supported him were mostly "poorer, darker-skinned, and more unsatisfied with the status quo" (Newsweek, December 27, 1999) than those who opposed him (old political parties, business federations, the church, residents of the wealthier Caracas neighborhoods, etc.). On December 15, The Irish Times reported that most of those that participated in the referendum were "dark-skinned members of the nation's underclass" (The Irish Times, December 15, 1999). The Irish Times also reported that Venezuela was renamed the "Bolivar Republic of Venezuela." On December 26, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram would report that the new Venezuelan constitution increased the rights of women and indigenous peoples and guaranteed social security for laborers. However, some individuals allegedly claimed that the election was fraudulent. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 12, 1999; Newsweek, December 27, 1999; The Irish Times, December 15, 1999; TASS, December 21, 1999; The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 26, 1999)
Jan 8, 2000 The leading prosecutor in Venezuela began investigating accusations that Venezuelan troops killed suspected looters and beat others after destructive floods killed 30,000 Venezuelans a month earlier. The Defense Ministry had denied these accusations. (The Economist, January 8, 2000)
Jan 27, 2000 President Chavez acknowledged the validity of reports detailing human rights abuses in Venezuela. (The British Broadcasting Corporation, January 27, 2000)
Jan 30, 2000 The Constitutional Assembly closed after operating for six months. (The Washington Times, January 31, 2000)
Feb 4, 2000 Thousands of Venezuelans marched in the streets to celebrate the eight anniversary of President Chavez's failed military coup. (The Deseret News [Salt Lake City, UT], February 5, 2000)
Mar 3, 2000 An indefinite nationwide strike by Venezuelan oil workers ended after 11 hours when the government published a decree that made the strike illegal. Union leaders, most of whom are opponents of President Chavez, called the strike to pressure the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) into resuming labor contract talks. These leaders called the government's decree "an ambush" and saw it as part of a "war" against Venezuelan unions. The National Guard was used to keep order during the strike. (The Washington Times, March 4, 2000; The Augusta [Ga.] Chronicle, March 4, 2000)
Mar 17, 2000 Following a discussion outside the town of El Dorado, representatives of the indigenous population of Venezuela informed President Caracas that they were rejecting his request for them to permit the completion of the power line in the Gran Sabana region. (The Washington Post, March 19, 2000)
Mar 31, 2000 The New York Times reported that Conservation International and Ye'kwana Indians were joining together to save the Guyana Shield, which is the largest unbroken area of tropical rain forest in the world and which includes territory in southern Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. Conservation International and the Ye'kwana proposed the creation of a "13-million-acre protected area and indigenous reserve on…(the) Venezuelan portion of the Guyana Shield to protect the rain forest" (The New York Times, March 31, 2000). The state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela allegedly supported this proposition. (The New York Times, March 31, 2000)
Apr 6 - 8, 2000 At a meeting between Venezuelan President Chavez and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso on April 7 and 8, Chavez informed Cardoso that he had reached an agreement on April 6 with indigenous leaders in southeast Venezuela that would permit Venezuela and Brazil to resume work on power lines (which will provide Venezuelan electricity to northern Brazil) being constructed in the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela. Chavez claimed that he and the indigenous Venezuelans had agreed on an accord that would respect the rights of indigenous communities in the affected area. According to Chavez, the Venezuelan government also allegedly promised to invest in social and economic development in the affected area. (Inter Press Service, April 7, 2000)
May 2, 2000 President Chavez and Francisco Arias Cardenas, Chavez's major challenger in the upcoming May 28 presidential elections, held separate rallies in Venezuela. At Chavez's rally, Interior Minister Luis Alfonzo emphasized that unionists were not Chavez supporters. At this rally, Cardenas joined a march by the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV). Cardenas is the former military general who assisted Chavez in his failed 1992 coup attempt. (Agence France Presse, May 2, 2000)
May 25, 2000 Venezuelan authorities postponed the scheduled May 28 presidential elections, citing various technical problems (including computer problems) and lack of information to the public as reasons for the postponement. (Agence France Presse, May 25, 2000; The Post and Courier [Charleston, SC], May 26, 2000)
May 29, 2000 Leaders of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (NEC) resigned amidst the controversy surrounding the postponement of Venezuelan presidential elections. (TASS, May 30, 2000)
Jun 14, 2000 Amnesty International released an annual report accusing Venezuela as one of a list of countries where reports of police brutality and the disproportionate use of force were "commonplace." (Agence France Presse, June 14, 2000)
Jul 6, 2000 National Guard Captain Luis Garcia was dismissed today after publicly calling for President Chavez's resignation a month earlier. (AAP Newsfeed, July 6, 2000)
Jul 21, 2000 Following the final acceptance of an accord between indigenous people and the Venezuelan government a week earlier, 54 leaders of the Pemon, Karina, Akawaio, and Arawako Indians (who number 24,000) traveled to Caracas and signed the accord that would allow Venezuela and Brazil to resume constuction on a power line in the Amazonian Gran Sabana region. (The Washington Times, July 22, 2000)
Jul 30, 2000 President Chavez was re-elected to a six-year term with 59 percent of the vote. In National Assembly races, pro-Chavez parties captured 99 of the 165 seats, which fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary for appointing judges. The Economist noted that Chavez's supporters did fare well in the state gubernatorial races. Despite a faltering economy and increased crime and unemployment, Chavez was able to hold on to his post. The British Broadcasting Corporation noted that Chavez's opponents submitted a writ demanding manual vote count checks in the election on July 27. (The British Broadcasting Corporation, July 27, 2000; The Florida Times-Union [Jacksonville, FL], July 30, 2000; The New York Times, August 1, 2000; The Economist [U.S. Edition], August 5, 2000; The Washington Times, August 6, 2000)
Aug 1, 2000 President Chavez utilized army troops to subdue clashes between his supporters and opponents in Merida state, where the state governor refused to accept the outcome of the July 30 election and leave office. Opposition candidates in eight other states also challenged the results of regional elections. According to The Washington Times, international election observers described the process as "clean and fair" (The Washington Times, August 2, 2000). Nine people were injured in clashes between Chavez supporters and opponents in Venezuela. (The Washington Times, August 2, 2000; Agence France Presse, August 2, 2000)
Aug 9 - 10, 2000 The first three indigenous elected to the Venezuelan parliament were confirmed by electoral authorities. These indigenous representatives immediately announced their intent to work hard at pushing through a law intended to specify exactly how the newly guaranteed rights of indigenous people will be protected. Also, the afternoon daily El Mundo newspaper reported that hundreds of Venezuelan Indians, residing in the southeastern state of Amazonia and representing seventeen different tribes (including the Yanomamis and the Guajiros), held a demonstration in front of the supreme court buildings in Caracas, demanding that the elections of July 30 be re-held. These Indians claimed that Social Democrat Bernabe Gutierrez, also a fellow member of president Hugo Chavez's Movement of the Fifth Republic party, won the election for state governor against the leftist, nationalist Liborio Guarulla as a result of election fraud. The Indians alleged that Gutierrez bought votes and committed other fraudulent acts. Indians in Amazonia state also reportedly threatened to burn Gutierrez. Finally, Pemon Indians from the Gran Sabana area of Bolivar state traveled to Caracas to meet with President Chavez and reaffirm their opposition to the transmission line linking the Guri hydroelectric plant in Venezuela and Roraima, capital of the Brazilian state of Boa Vista. This line passes through Pemon territory. Pemon representative Silviano Castro claimed "the FIB (Bolivar state indigenous federation) betrayed us and we maintain our initial position – no to the transmission line" (Business News Americas, August 10, 2000). (Inter Press Service, August 10, 2000; Deutsche Presse-Agentur, August 10, 2000; Business News Americas, August 10, 2000)
Aug 19, 2000 Hugo Chavez took the presidential oath of office and officially became the re-elected leader of Venezuela. (The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, August 20, 2000)
Sep 15, 2000 Indians in the Mapauri area of the Amazon region knocked down seven electricity towers in protest against a $400 million high-voltage power line that is to reach Brazil and pass through these Indians' ancestral homelands and Venezuela's Canaima National Park, the country's top tourist attraction. Indigenous leaders claimed that construction of this 470-mile line by Electrification del Caroni, the state-owned generator and transmission company, was ruining their livelihood and threatening the already fragile ecosystem surrounding it. The Venezuelan newspaper El Nacional reported that Pemon Indians were thought to be responsible for this action. (The Seattle Times, September 15, 2000; Business News Americas, September 15, 2000)
Oct 11 - 12, 2000 On October 11, the Coalition Against the Venezuela-Brazil Power Line informed Inter Press Service that, on October 12, protests would be held in Caracas and in the area where construction of the power line was occurring. The Association of Friends of the Gran Sabana told Inter Press Service that the power line would cause severe "damage and deterioration" to parts of Canaima National Park and would have disastrous consequences for "the original and historic inhabitants" (Inter Press Service, October 11, 2000) of the region – the Pemon Indians. The association also claimed that the opening of access roads to the park to install the power line was allowing vehicles to move farther into the nature preserve. Despite the Indians' filing of an injunction demanding a halt on the project, the Venezuelan Supreme Court had not yet handed down a decision. Inter Press Service reported that the Indians had also turned to the Office of the People's Defender for assistance with this matter. It is unclear whether or not the protest occurred. The following day, President Chavez denounced a supposed plan to further sabotage the construction of this power line. The president stated that the government could be forced to call a referendum to gather support for the project's conclusion if indigenous and environmental groups continued to oppose it. Chavez also rejected the Indians' claim that said power line would damage the area's ecosystem. (Inter Press Service, October 11, 2000; EFE News Service, October 12, 2000)
Oct 11 - 14, 2000 Venezuela's largest oil labor union carried out a four-day strike "to protest the state oil monopoly's refusal to grant salary demands by workers" (The Scotsman, October 11, 2000). The strike "paralyzed the nation's oil industry and posed the biggest labor challenge to date for President Hugo Chavez" (St. Petersburg Times, October 15, 2000). The striking workers claimed victory after the strike, having reached an agreement with the state oil monopoly to raise worker's base daily pay (currently $14 a day) by $7.25, with another $1.45 daily raise in February. The workers originally demanded a $9 raise, while the government began with an offer of $5. (The Scotsman, October 11, 2000; St. Petersburg Times, October 15, 2000)
Oct 22, 2000 President Chavez stated that, during what was the upcoming weekend, he would meet with members of the Pemon tribe, some of whom had acknowledged responsibility for knocking down more than 30 power lines that were part of the Venezuela-Brazil power line project in recent months. Chavez claimed that he would listen to Pemon concerns, but he also promised the completion of the project in early 2001, despite the protests. Venezuela Online News also reported that the government was not seeking to arrest those who knocked over the supporting towers, despite the costs that the state-owned generator and transmission company incurred. It is unclear whether or not these meetings occurred. (Venezuela Online News, October 25, 2000)
Oct 27, 2000 Thousands of union activists, opposition politicians, doctors, nurses, teachers, and others marched through Caracas as Cuban President Fidel Castro arrived there to meet with Venezuelan President Chavez. Chavez and Castro were on course to sign a pact on October 30 that would reportedly provide Cuba with 106,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil daily on lenient credit terms, in exchange for barter. The protestors demanded that this aid for Cuba be re-directed to assist underpaid Venezuelan workers, in accordance with government promises to increase workers' pay, and to create more jobs. However, the protests failed to disrupt Castro's arrival. In addition, several National Electoral Council officials resigned to protest a planned Dec. 3 national referendum that, if passed, would abolish Venezuela's principal labor confederation – a critic of President Chavez – in favor of a government-run labor confederation. (Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN, October 27, 2000; The Record, Bergen County, NJ, October 27, 2000)
Oct 31 - Nov 1, 2000 On October 31, Public school teachers in nearly half of the most populated areas in Venezuela went on strike to protest government non-compliance with salary provisions agreed upon via contract in May 2000. Roughly 20,000 teachers from Caracas participated in the strike, and educators in the states of Zulia (the leading oil-producing state), Carabobo, and Lara (the leading manufacturing states) joined them. On November 1, professors from fifteen of Venezuela's seventeen public universities carried out a 24-hour strike to protest government failure to "keep labor promises, mainly the settlement of pending wages and bonuses" (EFE News Service, November 1, 2000). The two universities that did not support the strike were the Central University of Venezuela and the University of Carabobo. Finally, Latin American Newsletters. Ltd. reported that, during the prior week, Colombia and Venezuela once again exchanged claims and counter-claims regarding the supposed increase in Colombian refugees pouring into Venezuela to flee the Colombian civil conflict between government forces and the FARC. Colombia also accused Venezuelan armed forces of entering Colombian territory, a claim that Venezuela denied, saying that its armed forces were carrying out an anti-narcotics operation in Venezuelan territory. Both of these issues are of concern with regard to the safety of indigenous Venezuelans because actions associated with these issues are occurring in territory populated by indigenous Venezuelans. (Latin American Newsletters, Ltd., October 31, 2000; EFE News Service, October 31, 2000 and November 1, 2000)
Nov 5 - 7, 2000 Demonstrations were carried out in the city of Merida in response to the death of a student named Jose Ramon Pena. It was unclear what this student's death represented to the protestors, but BBC Worldwide Monitoring reported that Interior and Justice Minister Luis Alfonso Davila claimed that there were "political interests behind the violent protests, which are linked to the recount of the votes under way in this city" (BBC Worldwide Monitoring, November 8, 2000). Business activities were negatively affected by the protests, and classes were suspended by government decree. Twelve businesses were vandalized on November 6, and as of November 7, the National Guard GN and the Army continued to occupy the main roads of Merida to prevent additional acts of vandalism. On November 7, demonstrations centered around the Faculties of Medicine and Engineering and involved demonstrators throwing stones. The military answered with volleys of tear gas. (BBC Worldwide Monitoring, October 8, 2000)
Nov 7, 2000 Approximately 400,000 Venezuelan construction workers carried out a 10-hour strike. Manuel Cova, leader of the Federation of Construction Workers, stated that these workers were protesting what they considered to be " ‘dilatory practices' in the discussion of the collective contract" (BBC Worldwide Monitoring, October 8, 2000). (BBC Worldwide Monitoring, October 8, 2000)
Nov 8, 2000 The National Assembly approved powers that will allow Presidential Chavez to pass legislation by decree in areas from economic and financial affairs to government reform. Chavez claimed that he needed this degree of authority for "the modernization of the country's legal structures and streamlining public administration" (New York Times, November 8, 2000). (New York Times, November 8, 2000)

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