during the celebration of Columbus Day, now known in Venezuela
as “The day of indigenous Resistance”, President Chavez said he was
expelling the New Tribes (Nuevas Tribus) out of Venezuela, accusing the Evangelical group of having ties to the CIA. It
was another chapter in a long and turbulent history of love/hate between Venezuela and
indeed a complicated relation. The Government dislikes the group because they
are mostly foreign, they are well funded and they roam around in areas where at the
end of the day, the Government has a weak presence and little control of. The Catholic Church
dislikes them simply because they represent well organized competition in the
effort to convince and convert these indigenous people to their respective
religions. Indeed, the New Tribe Mission has the ability to pick its spots in
contrast with the Catholic Church that wants to be everywhere. It is indeed
hard to compete with a group that even has its own aviation divisionin
recognition of the difficulties of working in isolated areas. Finally,
have loathed the divisions that the Nuevas Tribus have created among
each tribe, as they divide them into believers and non-believers,
giving rise to a new form
of segregation in these tribes as well as a change in tradition and
that affected the identity of these groups.
thus is not new. As far back as the 70’s the Indian tribe known as yekuanas,
tried to get the Nuevas Tribus out of Venezuela. I remember this because
I knew anthropologist Nelly Arvelo, deeply involved in this fight at that time.
(I imagine that she still is). This was a scandal that became daily news in the
local papers as the Nuevas Tribus affected also the larger tribe the Yanomamis.
But nothing came of it. If I remember correctly, there was an investigation and
Congress recommended that the Nuevas Tribus lose their permit as a religious
group. I don’t believe
this was ever done.
some point in the early 80’s, the Catholic Church asked President Luis Herrera
that he kick the Nuevas Tribus out of the area south of the Orinoco.
Nothing happened and the request was made again around 1990. Reportedly, the
Catholic Church had asked Chavez to kick the Nuevas Tribus recently and it is
being said that this was part of the negotiation to have Chavez veto the Vatican from
naming Monsignor Porras as the new Archbishop of Caracas.
In the mid-nineties
there was also a scandal when the then Administrator for the indigenous zones
gave a group from the Nuevas Tribus permission to build a small airport in
tribal land. This cost the man his job, as well as the jobs of the two missioners
who had asked for the permit.
Chavez’ expelling the Nuevas Tribus saying they were linked to imperialist
forces (I guess all American are in his mind). What is curious is that no
President before Chavez actually tried to get the evangelist vote as much as
Chavez. Evangelical groups, mostly form the US, are extremely active both in
remote areas as well, and mostly, in urban areas. Chavez in his enthusiasm and
verbosity went as far as saying on his Sunday program that he was an evangelist
which took everyone, including the Catholic Church, by surprise. But that was
the last time we heard that from him, apparently that took more votes away from
him that it gained.
the whole act on Wednesday was complicated for our illustrious President as all
of the members of the tribes that managed to get to the microphone, politely
thanked Chavze for extending the range of their tribal land, but told him that they
needed more important things like food, water and electricity. Reportedly Chavez
was upset that so many people were allowed to reach the microphone to voice the
same concern and in some sense, minimize the “happening” of the day, which Chavez
was giving away the land to the Tribe.
I have been able to find few people willing to defend the Nuevas Tribus other
than other evangelical groups, some
indigenous groups themselves and my friend Alex. The
truth is that no matter what their motives may be, and I have no clue if they
do go or not beyond their religious indoctrination, the Nuevas Tribus have a
constant and important presence in the Amazon and other areas of Venezuela. There,
they help, aid, provide medical care, food and even emergency transport to the
sick. Yes, they want to convert them to their religion, but the reality is that
the Nuevas Tribus are there because of the neglect of Governments, past and
present. Because of the extreme poverty, malnutrition and lack of basic infrastructure
in those areas. Because politicians only visit or care for those areas when an
election is coming up.
I have no clue as to whether the Nuevas Tribus
are loved, hated or neutral to the local indigenous population, but like one of
the quoted in the Associated
Press article: “The indigenous Venezuelans need to be heard, not to be
addition, the methodology is wrong. In a country with freedom of religion
guaranteed by the Constitution, it is not a matter for the Executive Branch to
decide on a matter like that. Least of all is it a
matter for the Governor of Amazonas State to issue a decree kicking a group
out of his state as if he owned all of the land. (For not talking about how
much he sucked up to Chavez with this action). In the end, it is a matter for
the Courts. Obviously, the Government can kick out foreigners out of Venezuela, but
the Nuevas Tribus have been here for decades and I am sure that by kicking out
the gringos, they are denting into their activities but not stopping them. Today,
the Evangelical Council which groups all evangelical groups said that they would
ask the Supreme Court for an injunction on the case. They bring up the fact
that similar accusations have been made before, but in the end, I am sure they
it is their instinct of self-preservation that leads them to vocally go out an
aid a group that in the end competes with them.
In fact, that is what the Government should have
done to begin with, If it had any reason and proof of why these groups should
be expelled from the country, it should have asked the Prosecutor’s office to
request a Court, whether the Supreme one or not, to decide on the matter, not
in the usual autocratic fashion that ignores the rights of the Nuevas Tribus,
which they have, the indigenous groups and of all Venezuelans to know and understand
what is going on in our own country. Instead, they used the autocratic way which
Chavez has gotten us costumed to.