For Immediate Release: March 24, 1999

Indigenous Peoples from 28 Tribes Hold Special Congress To Form Their Proposals for Venezuela's New Constitution

Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela - More than 400 indigenous delegates representing the twenty-eight different ethnic groups that exist in Venezuela are holding an extraordinary congress this week to elaborate their unified proposal for the new Venezuela Constitution. The Congress which began on Monday, March 22 will continue through Thursday, March 24 [1999] and is being held in the IUTIRLA Auditorium in Ciudad Bolivar in the State of Bolivar.

Venezuela's new President, Hugo Chavez has announced that as part of the process to re-write Venezuela's constitution, a special National Constituent Assembly will be convened this year. The Constituent Assembly will include 103 delegates from various sectors of civil society. During the indigenous congress this week, Venezuela's indigenous peoples will elect three representatives to participate in the Constituent Assembly. In addition to electing their representatives, Venezuela's indigenous peoples are meeting to formulate their position on a number of key issues, most notably indigenous peoples rights to their traditional lands and natural resources.

The Congress is being organized by the National Council of Indigenous Peoples of Venezuela (CONIVE) in collaboration the Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State (FIB), Indigenous Organization of the Caura Basin (KUYUJANI), the Regional Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Amazon State (ORPIA), the Regional Organization of Zulia State (ORPIZ) and other regional organizations.

Indigenous people are a permanent part of Venezuelan society and see it as a necessity that in the name of a true democracy, the new constitution of the Republic address the present and future legal standing of indigenous peoples with more certainty, justice and dignity.

"In the spirit of justice, we are calling on the sensibility of the rest of the Venezuelan public, to insist on an open and just process in writing a new Constitution that puts an end to five centuries of colonialism," said Nicolas Betis, a spokesperson for the Congress. "The new constitution must include the principles of legal equality and recognize that there are many original cultures in this country with their distinct ways of viewing the world, ways of life, and relationship to the land."

The indigenous organizations are calling on President Chavez to guarantee a process for formulating the new constitution that is based on the principles of democratic participation, and one that guarantees that indigenous peoples, through delegates that chosen by their own process of decision-making, are directly represented in the National Constituent Assembly.

In the past decade, many countries such as Ecuador, Brazil, and Colombia have revised their constitutions to include legal guarantees for the protection of indigenous peoples cultures and lands. The last time Venezuela revised its constitution was in 1961. However, although Venezuela is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country, protection for indigenous peoples has never been addressed in its constitution.

For more information contact (English interviews are available): Jose Luis Gonzales or Jerrick Andre, Indigenous Federation of Bolivar State
Tel: 58 85 21565 or 58 0 16 685 0257 email:

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