Venezuela: Organisation of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon (Organización de Pueblos Indigenas del Amazonas, ORPIA)
According to the 2001 census, 33 different indigenous peoples comprising a total of over 536,000 people dwell in Venezuela. This constitutes 2.3% of the country’s total population. Most of Venezuela’s indigenous people dwell in rural and tropical areas in the north-east of the country, in particular in the Orinoco delta, the southern federal state of Bolívar on the border with Guyana and Brazil, the Amazon region, the federal state of Apure in the south-west of the country, and the federal state of Zulia in the north-west. Most of the indigenous population live in so-called Areas Under a Special Administrative Regime (Area Bajo Régimen de Administración Especial, ABRAE). These include national parks, protected areas of forest, natural landmarks, protection zones, biosphere reserves, etc. Some of these have been classified World Natural Heritage Sites and are under special protection to conserve the biological diversity. Among the most populous peoples count the Piaroa, Warao, Yukpa, Yanomami, Barí, Pemó, Wayúu, Makiritare, Panare, Pumé, Wayúu, and Kari’ña.
The 1999 constitutional amendment changed the legal basis of the indigenous peoples considerably to their advantage, enhancing the rights of the indigenous population extensively, and giving them an active and decisive role in the country. The constitution established the necessary and lawful basis for survival of the indigenous communities. The Venezuelan constitution also acknowledges the existence of the indigenous peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organisation, their cultural and religious customs, their languages and their living space. The right to collective ownership of land is also guaranteed. The indigenous languages are also official languages for the indigenous peoples, and must be respected throughout the republic, representing a cultural asset of the nation and humankind.
The indigenous peoples are also guaranteed active political participation and representation of their interests in parliament.
The Organisation of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon (Organización de Pueblos Indigenas del Amazonas, ORPIA) has represented the interests and needs of Venezuela’s indigenous population since its establishment in 1993.
Among the organisation’s aims counts safeguarding the identity of the indigenous peoples and realising their ideals. Specifically, ORPIA is committed to the indigenous peoples through action plans in the fields of education, science and technology, environmental protection, human rights and health.
Text updated: Maryhen Jiménez (October 2010)