Thursday, October 13, 2005

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out 

Yesterday in a ceromony celebrating the indigenous peoples of Venezuela and returning to them parts of their historical lands President Chavez told some U.S. evangelicals they had to leave Venezuela:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ordered a U.S.-based Christian missionary group working with indigenous tribes to leave the country Wednesday, accusing the organization of "imperialist infiltration" and links to the CIA.

Chavez said missionaries of the New Tribes Mission, based in Sanford, Fla., were no longer welcome during a ceremony in a remote Indian village where he presented property titles to several indigenous groups.

"The New Tribes are leaving Venezuela. This is an irreversible decision that I have made," Chavez said. "We don't want the New Tribes here. Enough colonialism!"

He accused the missionaries of building luxurious camps next to poor Indian villages and circumventing Venezuelan customs authorities as they freely flew in and out on private planes.

The group is involved in "true imperialist infiltration, the CIA, they take away sensitive, strategic information," Chavez said, without elaborating. "And on top of that, exploiting the Indians."

"We don't want to abuse them, we're simply going to give them a period of time (to) pack up their things because they are leaving," Chavez said to applause from hundreds of Indians who sat under tents in Barranco Yopal, a remote village on Venezuela's southern plains.


During the ceremony, Chavez granted 15 property titles for more than 1.65 million acres to the Cuiba, Yuaruro, Warao and Karina tribes. The documents recognize collective ownership of ancestral lands by communities with some 3,000 people.

"Previously, the indigenous people of Venezuela were removed from our lands. This is historic. It is a joyful day," said Librado Moraleda, a 52-year-old Warao from a remote village in the Orinoco River Delta.

Moraleda received a land title and government pledges of $27,000 to build homes and plant cassava and plantains.

Chavez says he is leading a "revolution" for the poor and that defending the rights of Venezuelan's 300,000 indigenous people is a priority.

But poverty remains severe in many Indian communities, and some said they need more help beyond land titles.

"We want the government to help us with hunger, with credit," said Yuaruro Indian Pedro Mendez, 26. He said his community had asked for an electrical generator and loans to help plant more crops.

This is not something entirely unexpected. As pointed out by Luigino Bracci Roa in his blog this evangelical group has been accused, many years prior to Chavez coming to power, of illegally exploiting Venezuela’s precious minerals and force converting indigenous people to their religion. They were accused as far back as the early 1990’s of building illegal airstrips to fly gold and diamonds out of the country. Apparently, when choosing an area to carry out their religious activities they have an interesting tendency to wind up choosing areas rich in natural resources. Is it just me, but do these “evangelical Christians”, from Pat Robertson, to Jim Baker, to the New Tribe have some strange fascination with little green pieces of paper with numbers printed on them? I guess these “Christians” haven’t spent much time studying Jesus’s teachings.

Anyways, on a more positive note it is good to see Chavez righting a historical wrong by returning lands to their rightful occupants. Chavez may not have created these injustices and historical wrongs but it is up to him to right them. So far he is not disappointing.


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