The Fake Vindication of Venezuelan Indigenous People

What the Constitution and the laws established for Indigenous peoples and their institutional presence during the Chávez years is different from what happened later

Romel Guzamana, deputy and president of the Amazon Parliament of the National Assembly of Venezuela

Photo: Centro de Comunicación Nacional

The great unfulfilled promise, the big contradiction of chavismo, was to give Indigenous people in Venezuela a false sense of vindication. In theory, their rights would finally be fully recognized, and they’d have better conditions to exercise their full citizenship. However, just as their economic and social rights, their civil and political rights were also trampled. What’s the situation of Indigenous people’s civil rights in Venezuela? How about their right to vote freely? And be elected for office?

For starters, the 1999 Constitution in Venezuela contains a very positive measure in terms of furthering representation of Indigenous perspectives in the National Assembly. The Constitution contemplated the creation of an affirmative measure through a specifically Indigenous electoral district where three representatives can be elected (2% of the chamber). This is a positive affirmative action move in terms of ensuring diversity of representation that, if respected, would include Indigenous people’s views in important national discussions. However, Indigenous people who won in the 2015 election (the last election recognized by the international community) were blocked from occupying their seats in the AN due to manipulations by Maduro-aligned institutions to avoid a ⅔ congressional majority by the opposition. This violated a basic element of a democratic election (granting the seats of those democratically elected), and the rights of Venezuelan Indigenous people.

The electoral law was once again violated by altering the electoral arrangements that sought to level the playing field for the competition of Indigenous candidates, and their right to a secret, free and individual vote was violated.

A new issue came in the 2020 elections, which lacked key democratic standards (inclusiveness, cleanliness, competitiveness), and recognition by opposition parties and the international community. The electoral law was once again violated by altering the electoral arrangements that sought to level the playing field for the competition of Indigenous candidates, and their right to a secret, free and individual vote was violated. The National Electoral Council (CNE) came up with a temporary regulation for that election whereby the voting system was changed. In this new system, the secret, direct and personal vote was replaced by a system of delegates who voted on behalf of Indigenous communities, eliminating the first-degree election that had existed in previous processes. 

But Indigenous people have also been politically persecuted, and have been subject to arbitrary detentions. The militarization and state violence have also increased the rate of serious violations of civil and political rights of Indigenous peoples, with a balance of nine Indigenous people murdered in Bolívar in 2019, in addition to the illegal raids, arbitrary detentions, and harassment that have forced 1,200 Pemons to migrate to Brazil fleeing political violence. In total, there were at least 15 complaints from organizations and communities demanding strong actions from the Venezuelan State against the militarization of Indigenous territories by the FANB in 2019. Indigenous populations are also being affected by the occupation of the territory and actions by members of Colombian guerrillas like FARC and the ELN and by members of criminal gangs.

The discussion on Indigenous rights also includes the right and responsibility we have to protect the environment. They have ancestral ties to the land, and damages to the environment are equivalent to damaging their right to preserve their customs, traditional ways of life and their spiritual relationship with the land. The Orinoco Mining Arc, where these populations have generally resided, has seen huge increases in illegal mining and the presence of irregular armed groups, acting as para-states with state acquiescence. This ecocide is killing Venezuela and the region’s main natural ecosystems and also producing serious environmental and health damages to Indigenous people, such as an increase in cases of malaria and pollution of waterways, mercury poisoning, among other awful affectations. All of this has a differentiated effect on Indigenous women and girls, who are at greater risk of being trafficked as they’re right next to where these illegal activities are happening.

We all have a duty to protect their rights and their very existence.


* Opinions are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States (OAS).