Indigenous Yupka chief and land rights activist Sabino Romero has been assassinated in an act which has generated public repudiation from social movements and the Venezuelan government alike. A high profile investigation into the killing has been launched.
Romero was a chief of the indigenous Yupka people of the Sierra de Perijá in western Venezuela. He was assassinated on Sunday night as he made his way to vote in an indigenous election, in circumstances which are still unknown.
Romero was a leader in the struggle for ancestral Yupka lands in the Sierra de Perijá, lands held by cattle ranchers, but many of which have been formally granted to the Yupka by the Chavez government.
Last November, Romero travelled to Caracas with some 60 Yupka to demand that the government act against violence on the part of cattle ranchers who were refusing to give up their lands, as well as to protest against government inaction and public media silence over the conflict.
Several Yupka have already been killed in the land rights dispute, including Romero’s own father, and activists say that local judicial impunity has prevented the murderers from being brought to justice.
The Venezuelan government today condemned Romero’s assassination as a “terrible act”, and announced that a high-profile investigation into the killing had already been launched. The government, in a statement, said it suspects that the Yukpa chief was murdered for his role in the land rights conflict with cattle ranchers.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves on a hypothesis about this act, which is condemnable and must be repudiated from all points of view, but in general the just struggle for the fair distribution of land is on the table [as a possible motive],” said communication minister Ernesto Villegas.
Indigenous groups and social movements held a protest today outside the Public Attorney’s office in Caracas to demand that those responsible for Romero’s assassination be brought to justice.
Venezuelanalysis.com will provide more detailed coverage of this complex issue and the events surrounding Romero’s assassination in the next 24 hours.