Indigenous migration, another harsh reality ignored by Venezuela’s Chavismo

Many families of the Warao indigenous community from Delta Amacuro squat in precarious conditions in the capital of the Sotillo Municipality south of Monagas. Photo: Jefferson Civira


The crisis that the country has been experiencing since 2014 has not only caused the migration to other countries of 7.7 million Venezuelans according to the most updated figures from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but also internal displacement such as is happening with various indigenous communities. Such is the case of the Waraos in Delta Amacuro, who have been forced to migrate to other states such as Monagas, even to countries such as Guyana and Brazil.

By: Jefferson Civira /

Some of the reasons why families from the Bajo Delta have decided to migrate are the lack of employment mainly and also of medical care and child malnutrition, which force them to relocate to towns such as “Barrancas del Orinoco”, capital of the Sotillo Municipality in the south of the Monagas State, and settle on the banks of the Orinoco River in eastern Venezuela.

They assure that settling in this area of southeast Monagas has improved their situation a little, since they are cared for in special medical events, vaccinations, HIV tests and the sale of bags from the Local Supply and Production Committee (Clap, food aid).

Nelson Báez, who more than three months ago had to migrate with his partner and seven children to Monagas, says that he lived in the ‘Volcán de Arawao’ community, Manuel Renaud Parish of the Antonio Díaz Municipality in the east of the Delta Amacuro State, forced by the lack of government assistance. They affirm that even though the Chavista mayor, Amado Heredia, is of Warao origin, he has done little or nothing to improve the conditions of indigenous communities.

Mr. Báez explains that the main reason why many families move to other states is the high rate of unemployment, so they decide to migrate with their relatives sailing in small boats to Barrancas del Orinoco, in a trip that takes several days. Although the journey may be shorter through the area of El Volcán de Arawao itself, he assures that they must avoid that route because of the thieves that can be encountered along the way.

“At 40 years old, I have seven children and I graduated from high school in 2008, I am still unemployed. What I do is cart work (loading heavy packages in a wheelbarrow or cart) in the market. With fishing you also help yourself, both for your family and to sell. Here (in Barrancas) we are a little better, since Mayor José Maldonado has assisted us with medical attention events, the sale of Clap bags, vaccination for our children and adults, as well as HIV tests,” Nelson Báez said.

In that town of Monagas alone, it is estimated that about 60 families from the ‘Bajo Delta’ (Lower Orinoco Delta) have settled in Barrancas in search of a better quality of life. Some have improvised their huts near the pier on the banks of the river and others decided to squat on the so-called “little island”, located at the other end of the river bank.

Unassisted towns and people

Many families of the Warao indigenous community from Delta Amacuro squat in precarious conditions in the capital of the Sotillo Municipality south of Monagas. Photo: Jefferson Civira


For the researcher and professor of the Center for Studies and Development of the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), Emiliano Terán, it is very important to highlight the causes of the problem of internal migration of indigenous peoples to appreciate the problem in its full dimension and be able to implement policies that serve the indigenous populations and specifically the Warao ethnic group in Delta Amacuro State (Orinoco river delta). One of the reasons for this mobilization are the historical conditions of socio-environmental, ethnic, territorial and cultural impact suffered since the 20th century.

As a community largely based on water, the Waraos face serious pollution problems in the rivers such as oil spills, industrial waste and mercury pollution, which result in a great proliferation of diseases. This situation has generated great impact on the living conditions of the indigenous people, and due to the territorial remoteness, there is little presence of the State, so it could be said that the Warao people have historically been one of the most abandoned and affected, explains the sociologist.

“The National Government basically and fundamentally lacks a policy for indigenous peoples, even based on historical debts, such as the demarcation and titling of indigenous lands, which is enshrined in the Constitution, which has remained quite incomplete. Less than 50% of these lands are demarcated and titled. The demarcation stopped many years ago and there is a debt that could surely account for other types of alternatives in which there is more autonomy in the management of their own territories by the indigenous communities,” explains Terán.

The researcher, who is also part of the Political Ecology Observatory, points out that the humanitarian crisis that the country is experiencing and the lack of indigenous policies means that these internal displacements are not addressed by the State.

Greater displacement

The establishment of these indigenous communities on the banks of the Orinoco can mean the contamination of the river’s waters. Photo: Jefferson Civira


Omar González, who was also forced along with his family to migrate from the El Volcán de Arawao community, to the south of Monagas State, explains that historically the Waraos moved from one community to another, but that they always returned to their place of origin.

However, the current phenomenon occurs in greater quantities forced by the lack of opportunities and also the negative impact that has been caused on the environment that affects the quality of life of indigenous peoples.

“In the Lower Delta there are many cases of children with malnutrition, because there are no sources of employment, and the government and the mayor’s office do not serve the indigenous communities. Here (in Barrancas) we are grateful that at least the mayor has provided attention to the Warao families. We ask the authorities in Delta Amacuro to care for the aboriginal peoples, because lack of care is one of the reasons why migration to other states is ongoing,” says González.

Difficulty to get humanitarian assistance

The Barrancas del Orinoco boardwalk has welcomed families who have migrated from other communities due to their deplorable living conditions. Photo: Jefferson Civira


Sociologist Emiliano Terán also highlights the difficulties that national and international organizations have had for many years in providing humanitarian assistance in food and medicine, because the regime has been very zealous in this matter.

Remember that this occurred during the covid-19 pandemic, since it was very difficult for other organizations to provide greater assistance in situations such as the pandemic itself or health cases such as dehydration and diarrhea in children, malaria and other types of diseases that are widespread in the Venezuelan Amazon, so he believes this obstacle should be overcome to improve conditions in the areas where these people have migrated.

In his opinion, a public policy of attention to indigenous peoples must be resumed, because it has been absent for years and even more so in this humanitarian crisis in which the regime prioritizes the delivery of public goods for a supposed economic recovery at the expense of human rights and indigenous people’s rights.

Devastated territories

Fishing continues to be one of the ways of survival for these indigenous communities. Photo: Jefferson Civira


The UCV researcher highlights that the Waraos are part of the 29 indigenous communities in the country. He specifies that they are one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population found in the Venezuelan Amazon, which includes the states of Delta Amacuro, Monagas, Bolívar and Amazonas, territories that are being devastated by illegal mining.

He highlights the terrible impact that is not only environmental, but integral, since it also has to do with the cultural persistence and security of indigenous peoples who are being violated and abused by irregular armed groups, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

“It is necessary to defend the Amazon and at the same time guarantee life in a context of humanitarian crisis for the indigenous peoples, in which real fundamental measures must be taken to overcome or displace the problem of illegal mining. Health and nutrition are other issues that must be addressed with the greatest interest,” emphasizes the researcher.

And he continues recounting the drama of the indigenous people: “Recently there was a crisis in Yanomami territory triggered by hunger and illegal mining, both on the Brazilian side and on the Venezuelan territory. In this sense, it is essential that the healthcare (and sanitation) problem be taken into account and much greater interest, international support, greater institutionality be devoted to solve this and the impacts minimized with more coherent policies in relation to this issue,” Terán states.

The sociologist considers that humanitarian aid regarding health should be allowed to truly support all the weaknesses that continue to exist not only in the Warao territories, but also with the Yukpas, Barí and Japreria in the Sierra de Perijá, where there are several types of quite delicate diseases that put the health of the indigenous people at risk.

He points out that many of them have died from preventable diseases if we had a relatively good healthcare system and carrying out operations that could provide medicine to these towns and thus alleviate the serious situation that now exists.

The problem of hunger is very delicate, because the economy of indigenous peoples is being displaced by illegal mining. The inhabitants must choose between participating in illegal mining or dying of hunger due to lack of other sources of work.

The issue of security adds something more serious to the territories being devastated by illicit economies and there is no protection that guarantees that they live in tranquility in their environment, to the point that many indigenous communities have had to form territorial guards to create defenses against the groups that violate and abuse them.

Some indigenous families cannot stand this violence and flee to the cities, where they survive by begging for money at traffic lights, streets and avenues, a common scene in states of eastern Venezuela.

Although the Chavista regime boasts of its attention to the indigenous peoples in Venezuela and even of having created an exclusive ministry to address issues of this sector of the population, reality reveals a tragedy: the Waraos and other aboriginal communities in Venezuela live in deplorable conditions, that threaten their lives and ancestral legacy.