Amazonian Indigenous Peoples Appeal for Support

As a showdown approaches over how indigenous territories in the Venezuelan Amazon should be administered, the indigenous peoples are appealing for international support to persuade the national legislature and judiciary to support their rights. Please send faxes or letters immediately supporting the indigenous peoples to the numbers and addresses below. Your faxes and letters have made a big difference to teh debate so please don't fgeel you are wasting your time by helping out now.

The following, translated from the Spanish, is an appeal sent out by the Regional Organization of the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon (Venezuela) (ORPIA) and the Human Rights Office in Puerto Ayacucho.

Imminent Approval of a New Law for the Political Division of the Territory of the State of Amazonas (Venezuela) by the State Legislative Assembly. November 1997.


In 1995, the 19 indigenous peoples of the Venezuelan Amazon, through the Regional Organisation of the Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon (ORPIA) and other indigenous organizations, filed an appeal before the Supreme Court of Justice for the declaration as null and void the Law for the Political Division of the Territory of the State of Amazonas, on the grounds that it violated the indigenous peoples' constitutional and legal rights. In December of 1996, the Supreme Court found in favour of the indigenous peoples, annulled the law and ordered the Legislative Assembly to draft a new law which guaranteed the right of the indigenous peoples and communities of Amazonas to political participation. In February 1997, the indigenous peoples held their own Congress to discuss the Political Division of the Territory and passed their proposals to the Legislative Assembly.

Since the Court's judgement, the Legislative Assembly has used various means to evade the requirements of the Court and in November 1997 has given initial approval after a first reading to a draft law that does not take into account the indigenous peoples' proposals, that again violates their right to political participation and that fails to recognise the rights of the indigenous peoples who make up more than half the total population of the State.

The Indigenous Proposal:

The indigenous organisations have elaborated a draft law on the basis of detailed discussions with the different ethnic groups and communities, which proposes the establishment of 8 Municipalities in which their rights to political participation will be respected and which guarantees the application of the system of exception ('regimen de excepcion') set out in Article 77 of the Constituton. The draft asserts the principles of participation by the communities in local affairs, decentralization of resources and respect for the territories occupied by the indigenous peoples. In the same way, the draft proposes a special system for the functioning of the municipal government in the Yanomami area.

What You Can Do

Please send faxes or urgent letters in Spanish or your own language:

- Expressing concern for the fact that the Legislative Assembly of the State of Amazonas has not taken into accont the indigenous peoples' proposals for the political division of the territory of the State.

- Asking that the rights of the indigenous peoples are respected in the new law for the Political Division of the Territory of the State of Amazonas in accordance with the instruction of the Supreme Court of Justice.

- Urging that the Legislative Assembly considers approving the proposals presented in the draft law for the Political Division of the Territory of the State of Amazonas made by the indigenous peoples and communities.

Send them to:

1. Dip. Humberto Raidan
President y demas miembros de la
Asamblea Legislative del Estado Amazonas
Av. Aguerrevere, Puerto Ayacucho,
Estado Amazonas, Venezuela.
Telefax: + 58 48 212 455 or + 58 48 213 855

2. Sr. Bernabe Gutierrez Parra
Gobernador del Estado Amazonas
Av, Rio Negro, Puerto Ayacucho,
Estado Amazonas, Venezuela.
Fax: + 58 48 210 371

3. Dr. Alfredo Ducharme
Magistrado Ponente
Corte Suprema de Justicia
Av. Baralt, San Jose del Avila,
Caracas, Venezuela
Fax: + 58 2 562 8113

Please send copies to:

Luis Bello and Guillermo Guevara
Oficina de Derechos Humanos/ ORPIA
c/o Vicariato Apostolico
Puerto Ayacucho, Estado Amazonas,
Fax: + 58 48 211 545

Additional background information from the Forest Peoples Programme:

The Law imposing the division of the Amazon State into 'municipios', each with an elected mayor, and each in turn divided into a number of 'parroquias' with their respective elected heads was passed in December 1993. Despite indigenous appeals not to apply the law and their taking the case to the Supreme Court, the imposed structure accompanied by lavish budgets was established in 1995. The institutional arrangements do not correspond with indigenous traditional systems for decision-making and their imposition on the State has created a number of very serious problems which have severely disrupted the life of the indigenous peoples of the State.

Notable problems include:

1. Many of the indigenous people, particularly women and remote groups, lack identity cards and have, thereby, been disenfranchised.

2. Accusations of vote rigging and the intimidation of candidates and voters are rife.

3. Party politics has been introduced into the communities causing divisions.

4. Clientelistic relations have been established and reinforced throughout the territory.

5. Urban domination of rural communities has been reinforced.

6. Dominant communities and ethnic groups have secured their authority over smaller and politically marginal ones. In particular, 'criollos' have come to dominate indigenous peoples.

7. The provisions of generous salaries, benefits and positions of power for office holders has hastened the emergence of an indigenous elite and accelerated the trend towards individualist profit seeking.

8. Indigenous leaders who have joined the political parties to gain office as mayors have been corrupted. Currently one indigenous mayor is in hiding as he and his staff face charges of serious embezzlement and financial mismanagement.

8. The boundaries of the 'municipios' and 'parroquias' do not conform to indigenous polities or ethnic boundaries. This has led to further divisions.

9. Concern has been raised that the new mayors will authorise the redefinition of lands as 'ejidos municipales' creating further obstacles to the titling of indigenous lands.

The indigenous proposals would redefine the boundaries and administrative centres of the 'municipios' and 'parroquias' to accord more closely with indigenous realities, make voting procedures for electing leaders much more transparent, and ensure that the elected leaders were subject to much greater scrutiny and control by other community representatives. These proposals are being resisted by State politicians, most of whom are non-indigenous, as they will lessen their influence in indigenous areas and weaken their control of the electorates.

For more information contact:

Forest Peoples Programme, 1c Fosseway Business Centre, Stratford Road,

Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 9NQ, England.

Tel:01608 652893 Fax: +44 1608 652878


Forest Peoples Programme / World Rainforest Movement (UK Office)

1c Fosseway Business Center, Stratford Road, Moreton in Marsh, GL56 9NQ, UK

Tel: 44 (0)i608 652893 Fax: 44 (0) 1608 652878 Email:


The World Rainforest Movement's International Secretariat is at:

Casilla de Correo 1539, Montevideo, Uruguay

Tel: 598 2 496192 Fax: 598 2 419222 Email:

17 NOVEMBER 1997