Humanitarian disaster in La Guajira

La Guajira is located at the northern end of South America: in the peninsula between Colombia and Venezuela, on the Caribbean Sea coast. Around 600.000 Wayuu-indigenous straddle between both countries, living by their traditions, laws and world view. In La Guajira no paved roads exist but green ways, where donkeys take people to their destination. A Neverland, in which the rain dod Juya and the Goddess Pulowi reign. 

However, their lives are far from being idyllic. The Wayuu are starving due to corruption and political tensions between Colombia and Venezuela, as well as by the pollution of multinational mining companies.

Famine affect children and elderly people the most

The Colombian National Indigenous Organisation – ONIC – has issued alerts about the famine affecting 130.000 Wayuu people in La Guajira. Recently, the Colombian People’s Defender, Jorge Armando Otálora, informed that 40.000 indigenous are starving: 70% are children, women and elderly Wayuu people. In the Colombian 2965 children have died between 2008 and 2013,due to hunger and preventible diseases.

The problem: Wayuu people in Colombia depend on food supply from Venezuela

In the recent years the Colombian Guajira has been importing food from Venezuela at low costs, thanks to Venezuelan subventions. After the social unrest in Venezuela escalated, the 2.219 kilometer border with Colombia has been closed. Caracas justifies the shut down with the lack of food due to food smuggling in La Guajira as the main reason. Also the population from Venezuela suffers from the border being closed, as the imports from Colombia have diminished to 2.5 billon $ from 7 billion $, worsening the scarcity of products. Suspiciously, the Tachira State, where the Venezuelan opposition is the strongest, also limits with Colombia. Protests in Venezuela have precisely escalated due to the scarcity of common goods as flour, rice and milk.

Institutional persecution of Wayuu people in Venezuela 

The Zulia State government, a bordering state with Colombia, has repeatedly made responsible the Wayuu people of this product scarcity. Authorities claim that due to food smuggling, 40 percent of products in Venezuela are made unavailable to the general population.

In 2003 the deceased President Hugo Chavez began the export of gas via the Wayuu people to Colombia. Before that, gas smuggling was not common. In fact, the gas stations in Maicao, Colombia have closed only in the recent years. Mr. Chavez militarised completely the Venezuelan Guajira in 2010, as the gas business was upsetting the diplomatic relations with Colombia. Since then, 28 Wayuu have died. The NGO Human Rights of La Guajira has repeatedly denounced the human rights violations by the Venezuelan army, without success. The last victim by the Venezuelan armed forces is Nelson Enrique Gonzalez, a Wayuu teacher and policeman, who didn’t hear the stop call of a soldier and was shot dead in the head.

Military persecuting Wayuu people

Corruption in La Guajira: as strong in Colombia as it is in Venezuela

Luis is not indigenous but lives in La Guajira and works as dogwatch, smuggling food and gas from Venezuela to Colombia. He earns a month salary in 4 hours, around 50 $ in cash. Luis explains that in order to bring goods to Colombia, there are 6 military stations to pass by. His gang needs approximately 1.000 $ for bribing the Venezuelan military. Trucks carry a maximum of 32 gas pipes, each one with 216 litres. Food is sold 5 times more expensive, gas revenues promise a 100% margin selling it in Colombia.

The other issue is the corruption which is omnipresent in both countries. Even if the government has released funds to build schools and infrastructure in La Guajira, the funds never arrive and disappear in some politicians pocket.

Venezuelan media from left to right accuses the Wayuu people of being responsible of the food shortages. The accusations influence the public opinion, fomenting racism and prejudices toward the indigenous. In an article from the opposition newspaper La Verdad, the Wayuu people are described as: “modern slaves of the Mafia, living on the state subsidy and making a great business on expenses of the Venezuelan citizen”.

Extreme poverty and illiteracy

Following the Colombian Statistical Department, 80% of Wayuu people are illiterate, 30% live in extreme poverty with less than 1 $ a day and a daunting children’s mortality rate menaces toddlers. Benposta, a non government organization which helps indigenous children in Venezuela claims that indigenous women have up to 20 children to ensure that some of them will survive.

Exploitation of natural resources

Big mining companies, such as the Swiss-based GlencoreXstrata occupy the Wayuu-land. The mining activity pollutes their water source and causes environmental damages.  Clencore is to mine for coal The Rancheria river in Colombia, the only water source for the Wayuu.Currently there is a drought in La Guajira. This drought is a huge threat to the Wayuu people self-sufficiency, their animals and agriculture sharpening the dependence of food from Venezuela.

Misgovernment of Colombia and Venezuela is killing the Wayuu people

Daily, Colombia and Venezuela export millions of dollars in oil barrels, coal and salt. Paradoxically, the Wayuu indigenous people are dying of hunger and curable diseases.

The lack of literacy of the Wayuu indigenous is beneficial to the economic systems of Colombia and Venezuela. As both countries rely heavily on their natural resources, it is convenient that the indigenous have no idea how to defend themselves.

A call to all human rights and environmental activists

All this are devastating consequences of the misgovernment of both countries. If social, human rights and environmental activists do not work united, the Wayuu people will disappear. With them their 2500 year culture: a world’s heritage will silently die.


Students, journalists and members of the opposition in Venezuela continue their protests against crime, repression, media censorship, and food shortage. These problems have only worsened under the regime presided over by Nicolas Maduro.  Students in Venezuela demand legal action against the killings and violations of human rights, as well as the freedom of imprisoned students.

Torture of dissident students by authorities: The crime watch NGO Foro Penal has said that police anally raped detained students with rifles, beat them on the head and also burned their cars. Until today, the protests resulted on 18 dead, 200 injured and 600 students arrested in all of Venezuela. Foro Penal is providing free legal defense to the students and aims to raises awareness about the arrests of political activists.  

Paramilitary Guerrilla 

The former President Hugo Chávez fostered the creation of these informal armed groups after the coup d’état which briefly deposed him in April 2002. Through the creation of a pro-government militia that distributed war weapons to civilians in order to “protect the revolution”. The better known among them are the “Tupamaro” and “La Piedrita” collectives, which call themselves the “armed wing of Chavism”. There are over 90 such groups throughout the country. The collectives are sanctioned by the government to the point that the Minister for correctional services, Iris Varela, has referred to them via Twitter as the “fundamental pillar for the defense of the homeland”.


Political persecution 

Opposition leader Leopoldo López, former Mayor of the Chacao district from 2000 to 2008, has made repeated calls for peaceful demonstrations. In reaction,  President Maduro issued an arrested Lopez for breach of public order: “Lopez: you cowardly nazi-fascist“! Maduro said  on a televised address that all public and private broadcasters were forced to air. Maduro announced yesterday the expulsion of 3 officials of the Embassy of United States in Caracas for alleged conspiracy. Around 20 journalists have been jailed.

NGOs launch alerts

Human Watch describes the situation in Venezuela as serious during an interview with CNN. Amnesty International is asking the Venezuelan Government to ensure that no one is detained for exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. These rights are enshrined in the Venezuelan Constitution in its article 68. Venezuelan human rights NGOs such as PROVEA, Súmate and the indigenous rights activist José Palmar, a catholic priest, was beaten up during a peaceful protest.

International concern

Elias Jaua will meet United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva next 4th March amid growing international concern.The UN, the European Union and US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed their concern over the violent way demonstrations have been suppressed in the past few days and have asked President Maduro to give a peaceful culmination to the severe social crisis facing Venezuela. The former Latin American Presidents Felipe Calderón (Mexico), Oscar Arias (Costa Rica) and Álvaro Uribe (Colombia), have reported serious violations of human rights by the Venezuelan State and harshly questioned the democratic spirit of President Nicolas Maduro.

Points of protest

Crime: with approximately 200,000 violent deaths during the past 15 years, Venezuela is one of the countries with the highest murder rates in the world. According to NGO Observatorio Venezolano de la Violencia (OVV), violent deaths in Venezuela continue to climb, reaching 24,763 lives during 2013. Violent assaults occur anywhere: shopping centers, hairdresser shops, gyms, hospitals and even churches: on Saturday February 16th, two priests were killed in a Catholic school in the city of Valencia.

Placards held in the recent demonstrations read “Mr. President, we do not want any more deaths” or “How many children do I have to lose to the irresponsibility of Chavism”? We urge the international community to demand that the Venezuelan State eliminates armed groups created by Chavism to prevent further violence,” said Javier Arreaza and María-Alejandra Álvarez, Member of VENEX in Switzerland.

Shortages: Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. The majority of Venezuelans are not benefiting from this wealth. The scarcity of such basic goods as flour, soap, toilet paper inflicts suffering on our people. Located in a zone in the north of Venezuela that exports millions of dollars in oil barrels daily, the Wayuu indigenous people are dying of hunger and curable diseases.

Annual inflation amounts to 56%, making any purchase a luxury.  The exchange rate of the dollar on the black market brings the minimum wage to just about 50 dollars a month.

Katherine Portmann, representative of the NGO Benposta in Venezuela writes: “it is for us very difficult to provide food for our child centers in the Guajira. The worst part is that the governorship of Zulia negotiates the delivery of food trucks to reduce indigenous peoples to silence.”

Censorship: The Governor of the State of Miranda and opposition leader Henrique Capriles charged that there is a direct order to censor his statements. Venezuelan television and radio networks have not given any significant coverage to the student demonstrations for fear of losing their license to broadcast through Government retaliation. Only international networks such as CNN and Colombia’s NTN24 covered the demonstrations.  The latter was taken off the air in Venezuela on direct orders of Nicolas Maduro.

Social networks have become the main channel of communication for Venezuelans, which in turn has prompted the Government to partially block Twitter. Journalists incur serious risks when exercising their profession. Daniella Morrell, a Venezuelan journalist who was harassed for divulging information about the demonstrations states, “journalism in Venezuela is conditioned not only by Government editorial line, but by journalists’ very need for survival. Having a job to meet basic needs is difficult”.

During Venezuela’s war of independence, students and other young people fought the battle of La Victoria on February 12th, 1814. The royalist army was largely superior to the number of students they fought. Yet young people fought with fervor to liberate their land from elites. 200 years later history repeats itself.

          END       –

How can you help Venezuela?

Write a letter to the Embassy of Venezuela in Berne expressing your discontent about the current situation:

Schwarzenburgstrasse 73

3097 Bern – Liebefeld

Apartado Postal 1059, 3000 Bern 23

Tweet President Nicolas Maduro @NicolasMaduro calling for end to political persecution.

Remind the Minister of indigenous peoples Aloha Núñez to protect the rights of indigenous peoples in Venezuela @AlohaNueez

Share this video on social networks: and follow us on Twitter @venexsuiza

Talk about Venezuela. Join us in our demonstrations in Bern, Geneva and Zurich




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