Chavez Gives Land Titles to the Indigenous
By THAIS LEON
The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 9, 2005; 10:02 PM
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 year.
"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
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
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