Solidarity Brigade to Caracas

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Indigenous communities taking control

Report from Brigada Primera - covering Ciudad Bolivar and Guyana two cities to the west of Venezuela in Bolivar State.

One of the major features of this brigade was the opportunities that we have had to meet with the indigenous communities here. Throughout this area in the states of Bolivar and Amazonas there are quite a number of indigenous communities. In the state of Bolivar alone there is 19 different indigenous nations and there are 32 altogether in Venezuela.

On our fourth day we were lucky enough to meet with one of the Pemon indigenous communities, known as San Francisco de Yuruani (Pemon name is Cumara Cupay) about 70km north of the Brazilian border in the region known as the Gran Sabana. The Gran Sabana is basically a huge savannah which is famous for it´s flat-topped mountains (tepuis) and beautiful waterfalls, including Angel Falls the highest waterfall in the world.

We wanted to speak to the SanFrancisco de Yuruani community about the Vuelvan Caras mission that they have been implementing in their community. The name `Vuelvan Caras` comes from a heroic story from the Independence War, of a small group of independence fighters facing a much stronger enemy and winning. The mission itself doesn´t actually have very much to do with fighting, but is actually aimed at encourging `endogenous development`, basically creating economic development for the people and by the people based on a co-operatives. A co-operative functions through a collective process of decision-making, production and control of profits. Vuelvan Caras covers all kinds of economic activity, from the massive ALCASA aluminium factory employing 3,500 people to tiny chocolate factories of 10 people.

The San Francisco de Yuruani community was instrumental in launching one of the first of these endogenous development projects when they started one year ago. Their project was to create an agricultural development which would not only be able to help feed their own community (of 800 people) but also to provide for the needs of the municipality, another 38 indigenous communities across the whole of the Gran Sabana. 41 people in the community did the formal training required to set up a co-operative and have followed all the rules and regulations set out by the government for a co-operative. One of these is that the co-operative attempts to use all Venezuelan inputs to increase economic development in the country and decrease reliance on imports. Very soon the community will be planting their first crop of yuca, basically the Venezuelan equivalent of the potato, covering 40 hectares which is about 400,000 square metres, as well as finalising the financial requirements for a co-operative. In the future they hope to be able to cultivate bananas as well. Another aspect of this project for the community is also to develop tourism to their village, mainly in the form of handicrafts. The communities work is one part of the process of creating food sovereignty for Venezuela, a project for the whole country, turning around a long legacy of dependence of importing up to 70% of their food.

The community has also been involved in the three education missions. Mission Robinson, which is aimed at eradicating illiteracy, has already been completed in the community although in the past the majority were illiterate. Now they are moving on to Mission Ribas, aimed at increasing the number of people who have completed high school certificates and Mission Sucre, higher education. The young people of the community who have been to university teach the classes, so new knowledge and skills are spread around equally. Daisy Hernandez spoke about the fact the majority of the community were previously illiterate and that they`d solved this problem in only two years. Another of the community leaders spoke about the fact that the community continues to "exceed the government`s plans for our development and every time we achieve something the young people want more (challenges)". He also said he is "very grateful (to the Chavez government), because governments before didn´t take our needs into consideration".

The community still faces difficulties, mainly a lack of resources. For example, all four missions are organised and conducted in one small room and there is a real problem with scheduling time for competing demands. Also the community doesn´t have any computers and this makes the flow of information very difficult. They also cited a concern that there weren´t enough visits from the municipal bodies and that they would really like more face-to-face meetings with mission supevisors.

Overall, though, it was hard to ignore the sense of happiness and pride that the people of the community showed throughout our time there and they are keen to move forward more rapidly with education and development. When the community gets access to information technology this process will be speeded up even more.

Zoe

1 Comments:

  • Whenever I bring this stuff up I get accused of cultural imperialism...
    ;>
    But outside groups simply have to work with these people on a long-term basis and develop some form of relationship between these various communities & co-ops, and outside organizations in some formal, ongoing, even intense way.

    It is time to build permanent, victorious world-wide solidarity.

    By Blogger Comandante Gringo, at 3:23 am  

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