VENEZUELA: CRIMINAL AND STATE VIOLENCE AGAINST INDIGENOUS WOMEN LIVING SOUTH OF THE ORINOCO

Martes, 26 de noviembre, 2019
Por: Hernandez, Jhosgreisy

Progress in terms of legal frameworks and recognition of indigenous rights, as well as the inclusion of the principles of multiculturalism, multi-ethnicity and multilingualism in the Venezuelan Constitution, have not been enough to effectively vindicate indigenous peoples. This has aggravated their poverty and discrimination


By Andrea Pacheco

Mining is a male-dominated activity. In this context, dramatic forms of violence and exploitation arise —prostitution, trafficking of women, forced labour, forced migration, femicide and teenage pregnancy, among others.

The domain of the country’s indigenous peoples portrays a geographic distribution directly related to extraction areas, such as the Orinoco Mining Arc.

The conflict in that region has been aggravated not only by the Complex Humanitarian Emergency, but also by the State’s macroeconomic plan that has reconfigured the exploitation of the national territory, dividing it into the so-called Special Economic Zones. This, along with the implementation of the “15 Economic Motors” plan formalized in 2014, has established an extractivist logic to the detriment of natural assets, which results in their uncontrolled exploitation.

Globally, the living conditions of indigenous peoples, and particularly those of their women, fall within certain patterns that accentuate inequality and negatively affect rates of mortality, formal education and life expectancy, among others.

The need to consider the specificity of the indigenous female population in these contexts evidences the intersectionality approach, including the world view of racialized women as opposed to a universal urban stereotype. This shapes the dynamics and the multiple sexual, gender, class, racial and sexual orientation oppressions that weigh on the shoulders of indigenous girls, adolescents and women.

Progress in terms of legal frameworks and recognition of indigenous rights, as well as the inclusion of the principles of multiculturalism, multi-ethnicity and multilingualism in the Venezuelan Constitution, have not been enough to effectively vindicate indigenous peoples. This has aggravated their poverty and discrimination.

Orinoco mining arc: women, adolescents and girls

The increasing environmental degradation resulting from the establishment and expansion of mining projects in the national territory, of which the Orinoco Mining Arc is an alarming case, is having a growing impact, with varying degrees of intensity, on the quality of life of the entire population. Indigenous communities are particularly affected, as there are direct and indirect consequences on their health and living conditions.

Venezuelan indigenous peoples, who represent 2.7% of the population (INE, 2011), participate actively in defending their territories and preserving their environments, which are constantly threatened by multiple interests.

It is worth keeping in mind that the main causes of environmental degradation are the result of profound social, economic and —especially— gender inequalities in the context of a complex humanitarian emergency. Some testimonies compiled for Mujeres en Línea’s 2019 report acknowledged the presence of gold mining sites along the Caroní River.

“You don’t have to go to El Dorado or to southern Bolívar state. Five minutes away from the checkpoint, there is mining, and malaria, dengue and disease proliferate,” Ana Páez, a 48-year-old teacher, said.

Páez also explained that there are no health units in the area and that women must travel at least one hour to get to the nearest health center, because the Guaiparo Hospital closed due to lack of resources.

“The only hospital we have is the Social Security Hospital in Ciudad Bolívar,” she said.

Military and paramilitary violence against women in the mining arc

In recent years, the military (branches of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces) has been involved both directly and indirectly in the mining, processing and marketing of gold and other minerals extracted in the region, at all scales.

The Mining Arc Decree grants special powers to the military to guarantee the proper development of all mining and commercial activities in the region. In addition, mines are classified as security zones under the administration of the Ministry of Defense, as established by article 38 of the Gold Exploration and Exploitation Act (2015).

The militarization of the Mining Arc territory, which was declared a military zone, has not diminished violence and criminality in the region. On the contrary, the government acts through a series of overlaps between the pranato —a criminal mob—  and the security forces, thus becoming what some researchers have called a “mining pranato”.

In contexts of violence, gender violence increases considerably, resulting in more femicides, sexual violence, trafficking and exploitation, among others. The Guayana Observatory of Gender Violence reports that in Bolívar state there were 28 femicides during the first semester of 2017, with 40% of victims aged between 13 and 21.

Thus, in 2018, violence against women increased throughout the state. According to the 8th and 9th reports issued by the Observatory on Armed Violence with a Gender Perspective (OVACEG) —run by the non-governmental organization Commission for Human Rights and Citizenship (Codehciu)—, 14 femicides were committed in the states of Bolívar and Monagas between January and June, including cases of sexual and physical violence and a missing woman. The records also indicate that there were 5 victims of sexual violence and abuse of authority by state officials, and even of attempted femicide.

Although there is no data broken down by ethnicity about gender violence and femicide, we can infer that mining contexts are deeply aggressive with creole and indigenous women. In the case of indigenous women, their situation regarding violence is even more complex given the lack of access to justice and means for denouncing.

Women’s and girls’ lives are deteriorating in mining areas

The devastating logic of the Orinoco Mining Arc project is not limited to the land demarcation established by Decree No. 2,248. Small-scale mining is proliferating south of the Orinoco River, creating huge inequalities in the states of Bolívar and Amazonas.

Mining activities in the region have resulted in constant clashes between armed gangs and between the gangs and the security forces, a dispute over territorial control. Many of the clashes have taken place in the vicinity of indigenous communities, displacing and frightening the population.

Recent cases of murders of indigenous people in the Pemón community of San Luis de Morichal —municipality of Sifontes— and in the community of Jivis —municipality of Sucre— speak of state and parastatal violence against these populations. It should be noted that reports tend to highlight only male deaths, while little reference is made to cases of sexual abuse and intimidation against indigenous women.

According to the Wanaaleru Organization of Amazonian Indigenous Women in the report Mujeres al Límite 2019 (Women at the Limit, 2019), mining-related violence against women revolves around the creation of villages where bars, brothels and food stalls are set up, controlled and managed by the miners themselves. They end up entering the sexual exploitation business, which results in high rates of femicide and territorial violence. These currutelas —brothels— run by the people in charge of mining buy women as if they were an everyday object in order to make more profits. Most of the women sold are girls and adolescents, who are raped, abused and forced to engage in criminal activities by soldiers, miners or armed groups. Girls and adolescents are displayed for sexual exchanges or purchase as slaves and are traded for grams of gold —between 5 and 10. The younger girls are more expensive, because the older the woman is, the less sought after and therefore the cheaper.

Criminalisation against indigenous women and environmental defenders

In Venezuela, numerous cases of intimidation, harassment and institutional omission against indigenous women leaders were registered during 2018. These aggressions range from defamation and false accusations to kidnapping and cruel treatment. The cases of indigenous women who were involved in some of these environmental and/or territorial disputes were notable during 2018, but continue to be invisible to the media and government bodies.

Indigenous women leaders assaulted or harassed during 2018

Lisa henrito

Date and characteristics of the aggression: July, 23, 2018

She was accused of “treason and secession” by a high military spokesman on a stateowned television show.

Current situation: Although the aggression was strongly rejected by the Pemón people, the harassment has continued and the government has not retracted the accusations.

Mary Fernández

Date and characteristics of the aggression: November 24, 2018

Yukpa teacher and daughter of the Chiefess Carmen “Anita” Fernández. She was kidnapped and tortured for interests related to cattle ranching in the state.

Current situation:  She was released on November 29 but although a complaint was filed, there has not been progress in identifying the perpetrators of this crime.

Cacica Carmen ¨Anita¨ Fernández

Date and characteristics of the aggression: November 23, 2018

The house of Anita Fernández, Chiefess of the Kuse community in Sierra de Perijá, was looted and burned, and her cattle were stolen.

Current situation: The crime goes unpunished and she has not received compensation.

Lucia Romero

Date and characteristics of the aggression: Throughout 2018

Her struggle for justice in the case of her husband’s, Chief Sabino Romero, murder has led her to a fierce denunciation that has brought more death and repression to her family. During 2018, she denounced threats and aggressions against her relatives.

Current situation: The intellectual authors blamed by the Yukpa community have not been prosecuted. There are no effective protective measures for Lucia or her family.

Mining is a male-dominated activity. In this context, dramatic forms of violence and exploitation arise —prostitution, trafficking of women, forced labour, forced migration, femicide and teenage pregnancy, among others.

The threat of these dynamics spreading to the rest of the country is extremely serious, since it directly and indirectly affects almost all of the population and territory. Girls and women bear the brunt of this devastating situation, yet the government ignores them. The effort to make these realities visible and to assume denunciation as an urgent cause is in our hands.


Tags: Venezuela, Bolívar, Emergency, indigenous, women.

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