• Pueblos indígenas en Venezuela

    Pueblos indígenas en Venezuela

    El 2.8% de los habitantes de Venezuela se identifican como indígenas. Venezuela ha adoptado la Declaración de Naciones Unidas sobre Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas y ha ratificado el Convenio 169 de la OIT.

The Indigenous World 2022: Venezuela

For more than two decades now, Venezuela’s Constitution has recognised the country as multi-ethnic and pluricultural. It has also established that Indigenous languages can be officially used in the country. Indigenous Peoples make up approximately 2.8% of the country’s 32 million population. According to the 2011 Indigenous Census, some 51 different Indigenous Peoples live in Zulia, Amazonas, Bolivar, Delta Amacuro, Anzoátegui, Sucre, Apure, Nueva Esparta, Lara, Falcón and Mérida states. This same census highlights a resurgence in peoples once considered extinct and in others coming from different countries in the region.

The current legal framework governing Indigenous Peoples’ rights is fairly complete. The Constitution recognises Indigenous Peoples’ rights in a broad sense, in a complete chapter commencing at Article 119, expressly recognising their existence, social, political and economic organisation, cultures, habits and customs, languages and religions, as well as their habitats and original rights to the lands they ancestrally and traditionally occupy, including a guaranteed right to property. The legal system thus establishes a set of legal and regulatory provisions that tend towards providing broad protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, such as the Law approving ILO Convention 169, the Organic Law on Indigenous Peoples and Communities, the Law on Indigenous Languages and the Law on the Cultural Heritage of Indigenous Peoples and Communities.

Extractivism and Indigenous Peoples’ rights

The main threat to Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the country in 2021 was the continued scaling up of Venezuela’s extractive industry. This was noted by the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 34th session following approval of Venezuela’s last Universal Periodic Review in 2017.

This scaling up of the extractive industry has taken place alongside a paralysis in and lack of demarcation and titling of Indigenous habitats and lands. Of the aspects highlighted by the Venezuelan State in its National Report to the UN Human Rights Council, mining activity continued to be the main focus of the government over the current period, with no correspondence whatsoever between the demarcation of Indigenous lands and this ramping up of extractivism in the country. To date, there has been no assessment of the impacts of extractive activities south of the Orinoco, specifically those related to the so-called Orinoco Mining Arc.

2021 continued to show a marked deterioration in the enjoyment of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the country, a situation that continues to result in the migration of some vulnerable sectors, including Indigenous Peoples from south of the Orinoco to Brazil and Colombia. This migration, one of the origins of which lies in the lack of titling, is due to hydrocarbon projects and the invasion of Indigenous territories by miners. It has also been noted that the migrant population is made up primarily of women and children.

Extractivism and violence against Indigenous girls, adolescents and women

The multidimensional crisis (economic, social, political and humanitarian) being suffered in the country has led men, women and children to seek sources of income at the different mining sites that have proliferated throughout the Amazon region comprising the states of Amazonas, Bolivar and Delta Amacuro. Over the last decade, Indigenous girls, adolescents and women in the territory south of the Orinoco have suffered physical abuse and psychological and sexual violence due to illegal activities. Such violence results in damage and consequences that place them in a situation of extreme vulnerability. This is on top of their poverty and Indigenousness, which already constitute risk factors.

Although there have been no studies produced on this situation, it can be seen in practice that there is a direct relationship between the presence of women in mining areas and the violence exercised against them at different levels. The lack of official research and data on Venezuelan victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation in the context of mining operations in the south of the country, especially women of Indigenous origin, is only exacerbating this serious problem.

Migrations, forced displacements and refugees: the case of cross-border Indigenous Peoples[i]

Cross-border Indigenous migration out of Venezuela increased from 2020 onwards in the context of a complex situation marked by the country’s crisis, with different causes[ii] linked to problems of health and accessing food. On occasions, forced displacements have occurred due to violent situations that compromise the physical integrity of the Indigenous Peoples. Food poverty is usually associated with displacement from their ancestral territories due to the fact that they are no longer able to practise their traditional subsistence activities.

This situation has caused a substantial exodus of members of the Warao Indigenous Peoples from Delta Amacuro and Monagas states; E'ñepa from Amazonas and Bolivar states; Pemón from Bolivar state; Jiwi, Uwotüja, Arawako from Amazonas state; and Wayuu and Yukpa from Zulia state, and these today make up the majority of cross-border Indigenous Peoples.[iii]

The national crisis has particularly affected the Warao communities of the Orinoco Delta and Monagas,[iv] as well as members of the E'ñepa Indigenous people of Bolivar. They have been forced to seek economic relief in distant regions such as Boa Vista and Manaus in Brazil.

Indigenous Peoples in voluntary isolation and initial contact in Venezuela[v]

There are three Indigenous Peoples in Venezuela that have population groups living in initial contact or voluntary isolation. Such is the case of the Hodï (Jödi), Yanomami and Uwottüja (Piaroa) peoples, who live south of the Orinoco in Bolivar and Amazonas states.

There is still no formal recognition of these peoples’ ways of life, despite the enormous efforts made to protect and safeguard them both internationally and regionally. This highlights the problems the Venezuelan State has had in implementing protection policies for these groups. However, in 2020 and 2021, in the context of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health published a guide to addressing the health emergency among Indigenous Peoples and communities, including some provisions related to disease prevention and care in territories where there is the presence of isolated groups, indicating that they should be protected by means of sanitary cordons to prevent the spread of the disease. This reveals an initial recognition and development of a comprehensive health policy.

Indigenous rights in times of pandemic

According to the Pan-American Health Organization, 63% of COVID-19 cases among Venezuela's Indigenous population are concentrated in the state of Bolivar.[vi] Bolivar also appears to be the state with the highest number of deaths, 96 in all. Indigenous Peoples usually live in remote and inaccessible areas, making it all the more difficult to gain an accurate understanding of their social and health reality[vii] as well as of the deficiencies they suffer in the midst of severe shortages such as lack of medical care and food.[viii]

Difficulties in coordinating with the Special Indigenous Jurisdictions[ix]

The Special Indigenous Jurisdictions are traditional institutions that have emerged in Venezuela among the Indigenous Peoples and communities over the last decade. They take decisions in accordance with the habits and customs of the communities and are a way of resolving intra-community conflicts and exercising territorial governance. They have also demonstrated how resistance and legal dissent can occur within the diversity of normative systems and Indigenous justice itself. Special jurisdictions are recognised in the strict sense (strictu sensu) in Article 260 of the Constitution and, more broadly speaking, in Article 119.[x]

Such is the case of the Sanema Indigenous people, who have historically shared territory with the Ye'kwana Indigenous people, even though their methods of conflict resolution are different.

Other cases abound in the varied regulatory background of the country's own justice systems.[xi]

Special mention should be made of the case of Héctor Solano, Indigenous Uwottüja from the Cataniapo Basin, Amazonas state, sentenced through the ordinary justice system for an alleged crime of rape without sufficient evidence. Having previously been declared innocent in a community trial under the Jurisdiction of the Uwottüja Indigenous People of Las Pavas, he ended up receiving precautionary measures in his favour by decision of the Judicial Reform Commission of Amazonas State.[xii]

In this regard, the Venezuelan State expressly recognises the right to special jurisdictions in its report to the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council,[xiii] establishing that: “The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela recognises the existence of the original right of Indigenous Peoples contained in the Special Indigenous Jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Justice has adopted several rulings to recognise the traditional systems of justice of Indigenous Peoples, in accordance with international standards”.

Luis Jesús Bello is the operational director of the Wataniba Socio-environmental Working Group and Vladimir Aguilar Castro is a member of the Indigenous Affairs Working Group of the Universidad de Los Andes.


This article is part of the 36th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2022 in full here


Notes and References

[i] See the report prepared by the Wataniba Socio-environmental Working Group of the Amazon and the Indigenous Affairs Working Group of the Universidad de Los Andes for the United Nations Human Rights Council, to be held in the first quarter of 2022, p.10. Also see 2021 reports of the Platform against the Orinoco Mining Arc and the Centre for Reflection and Social Action (CERLAS) for items 9, 10 and 11.

[ii] The Venezuelan crisis is permeated by a much more complex social, economic, political and cultural reality, the humanitarian nature of which can only be understood if we place it in a structural, historical, cultural and civilizational context. See Aguilar Castro, Vladimir in this regard. Lógicas territoriales, de poder y déficit de la política en Venezuela. Desvaríos de una construcción democrática [Territorial logics, power and political deficit in Venezuela. Deviations from a democratic construction]. CETAI-GTAI (forthcoming).

[iii] One of the causes of Indigenous cross-border migration, one that has been little studied, is the lack of recognition, titling and demarcation of Indigenous territories, which gives a sui generis character to Indigenous migrants, refugees or displaced persons abroad. This would merit a special category under international humanitarian law since a possible return of these peoples to their habitats would be created by the titling of these lands. In the absence of a suitable category, we have preferred to call them cross-border Indigenous Peoples, with the understanding also that many of them are also binational Indigenous Peoples.

[iv] The main cause of the first exodus of the Warao people from their territories was the development of the hydrocarbon extraction project north of the Orinoco, called Plataforma Deltana. Subsequently, there was a second wave coinciding with the current complex humanitarian crisis and due, among other things, to the Arco Minero del Orinoco mining project, this time south of the Orinoco.

[v] See Bello, Luis and Gregorio Mirabal. n/d. “Los PIACI en Venezuela” [Indigenous Peoples in Isolation or Initial Contact in Venezuela]. Pueblos indígenas en aislamiento. Territorios y desarrollo en la Amazonía y Gran Chaco. Informe Regional [Indigenous Peoples in isolation. Territories and development in the Amazon and Gran Chaco. Regional Report]. Ecuador: Land is Life, pp.433-459. https://landislife.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Land-is-life-25-septiembre-2019.pdf

[vi] Radio Fe y Alegría. Programa con Todas las Voces. 10 October 2021.

[vii] Ibíd.

[viii] Ibíd.

[ix] See the Report prepared by the Indigenous Affairs Working Group of the Universidad de Los Andes, and the Wataniba Socio-Environmental Working Group of the Amazon for the United Nations Human Rights Council, to be held in the first quarter of 2022, as well as the 2021 reports of the Platform against the Orinoco Mining Arc and the Centre for Reflection and Social Action (CERLAS).

[x] Although the ancestral, traditional and legitimate Indigenous authorities have been resolving conflicts in their communities since time immemorial, the case of the Yukpa chief Sabino Romero is symbolic of the tension that arises between special Indigenous jurisdictions (their own justice systems) –which as we have already noted are recognised in Article 260 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela– and the lack of demarcation of Indigenous territories (Article 119). This case marked a turning point for the Venezuelan State as a guarantor of Indigenous rights, revealing its neocolonial character.

[xi] There are four Special Indigenous Jurisdictions formally constituted under positive Indigenous law in the country, namely: Jurisdiction of the Wotjuja Indigenous People of San Pablo de Cataniapo, Jurisdiction of the Wotjuja Indigenous People of Las Pavas and Jurisdiction of the Ye'kwana Tuduma Saka Indigenous People, all in the Indigenous state of Amazonas, plus the Pemón Kanaimö Indigenous Jurisdiction in the state of Bolívar. Their existence does not exclude other jurisdictions that operate according to the customs and traditions of the country's Indigenous Peoples, based on their own Indigenous law, but these have not yet been inventoried or positivized. See Aguilar Castro, Vladimir, Marciales Rodríguez, Guillermo and Mejías, Vercilio (Waayama). La jurisdicción especial indígena en Venezuela como derecho propio [The special Indigenous jurisdiction in Venezuela as own right]. Collaborative effort between the Universidad de Los Andes through the Archaeological Museum, Editorial Dabatana, the Indigenous Affairs Working Group (IAWG), the Regional Organisation of Indigenous Peoples of Amazonas (ORPIA), the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) and the Wataniba Socio-environmental Working Group of the Amazon, 2021.

[xii] His final acquittal is still pending.

[xiii] See A/HRC/WG.6/40/1. Op.cit.




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