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VENEZUELA: Bar People Left Without Land by Oil, Cattle, Coal [View All]

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VENEZUELA: Bar People Left Without Land by Oil, Cattle, Coal
By Humberto Mrquez

KUMANDA, Venezuela, Apr 11 (IPS) - For 900 years, Bar indigenous hunters roamed freely throughout a vast region in western Venezuela. "Now they want to sentence us to die by locking us up in this corral, watching the white man get rich by destroying the land that used to be ours," says schoolteacher Conrado Akambio.

The huts and multi-family dwellings of the 150 inhabitants of the community of Kumanda are scattered over a hectare of heat-drenched grassland along the banks of the Aricuiz River.

The walls of their homes are made from tree trunks, the floors are packed dirt or a few wooden planks, the roofs thatched palm leaves. Everything is bleached a pale dry grey by the blazing sun. Children run and play among a handful of chickens as the adults seek a shady spot to sit and talk about their plight.

"Our grandparents fought to defend our land, but they lost their fight to the oil companies, who sent in men with rifles. Our people took refuge in the mountains, and then the cattle farmers came in and grabbed this," said Ignacio Akambio, another member of the community.

"We cant hunt anymore, because all the animals have disappeared, and we have nowhere to grow crops," he continued. "And so we eat corn flour bread or spaghetti, and we dont live to be old-timers like before; instead we are sick all the time and only live to about 60." It is a harsh fate for the people that Sabaseba, the creator, plucked from the inside of pineapples, according to legend.

Anthropologist Lusbi Portillo, from the non-governmental organisation Homo et Natura, told IPS that "the crux of the Bar peoples problem is that between 1910 and 1960, they lost their land and were decimated by the advance of oil exploration, first, and then by the cattle farmers who occupied and cut down their forests in the flatlands and pushed them towards the unproductive land in the mountains."

The ancestral territory of the Bar people -- now reduced to less than 3,000 members spread across roughly 20 communities in Venezuela -- encompasses between 4,000 and 5,000 square kilometres, located 650 kilometres west and southwest of Caracas. When viewed on a map, it resembles a wedge cutting into Colombia, where there are also several hundred members of this ethnic group living today.

A few communities in the Sierra de Perij mountain range, which forms part of the border with Colombia, have accepted the demarcation of their lands proposed by the Venezuelan government. But other communities, like Kumanda and Karaakaek, not only refuse to be "fenced in", but have also settled on tracts of land between cattle ranches as a means of forcing the issue.

complete article here
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