The need to control the narrative about indigenous people, in contrast to the negative portrayals in mainstream media, along with more political representation and improved health care were among the main themes discussed last week in the Washington, D.C. area by indigenous leaders from Venezuela.
David Hernandez Palmar, a Wayuu activist, researcher and videographer and Lisa Lynn Henrito, a former Chief of the Penom Nation and health consultant for the Indigenous Health Department, told audiences about the achievements, struggles and challenges facing indigenous people in Venezuela.
In an interview before their presentation at the Nyumburu Cultural Center at the University of Maryland on October 15, Hernandez Palmar and Henrito spoke about the important upcoming elections for the National Assembly in Venezuela and issues surrounding borders and health.
“Most of us are supportive of the Bolivarian process [the form of socialism practiced by Chavez that is connected to the vision of Simon Bolivar for Latin America] and we have had progress,” Hernandez Palmar said about the socialist government administrations of former President Hugo Chavez and current President Nicholas Maduro.
“But there is still a lot to be done. In my opinion the upcoming elections are some of the most important ones for us.”
Hernandez Palmar explained that there are currently three indigenous representatives in the National Assembly that has a total of 167 seats and that the indigenous need at least 10 seats to achieve parity. Several indigenous candidates are in the running for this cycle with a December 6 voting day.
One of the top issues for Wayuu people involves the border with Colombia, he noted. The Wayuu nation, like many others in this hemisphere, extends from western Venezuela into northeastern Colombia and relations between the two governments directly affect Wayuu communities on both sides.
“We want to create a peaceful border,” Hernandez Palmar said referring to tensions between the countries as a result of allegations that FARC rebels are crossing between them. “There are a lot of things happening in the negotiations in Havanna [between Colombia and the FARC guerillas] and that’s why it’s so important for us to put those issues on the table, with our own narrative as opposed to the right wing media and CNN for instance, who have been telling another version of the story.”
For Henrito, the issue of borders is especially important as well. The Penom Nation lives on either side of borders between eastern Venezuela and western Guyana and northwestern Brazil.
“Right now Brazil is airlifting kilos of gold out of our area without our consent. The Venezuelan military knows about it as does the Guyanan military and I criticize both governments on this issue,” she continued.
“I tell my people, we have to propose laws, we have to talk about it. We don’t want to be part of this dispute so that we have to suffer each time the governments fight. If we don’t say anything the governments won’t know about us,” Henrito said.
Henrito stated that there is a Penom legislator in the National Assembly but that they need more representation to address the complex border issues and the dire health conditions facing much of the Penom community. She pointed to a local hospital where the clinic for the Penom community was back next to the morgue and that they need a better location and more services in general.
“We need to speak right now,” she added.