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'Territory, autonomy, dignity... and no coal'

‘We are at the vanguard of the resistance,’ proclaims Jorge Montiel. He belongs to an indigenous organization called Maikivalasalii, meaning ‘Not for Sale’, reports IPS. At stake is his homeland, threatened by state and foreign-run coal mining operations in the Guajira Peninsula, which straddles the Colombia-Venezuela border on the Caribbean coast. ‘If coal mining operations continue to expand we will be left without land to grow crops or raise goats, to live in the ways of our culture. We will end up living in destitution in the cities,’ he adds.

Jorge’s community is part of the 500,000-strong Wayúu indigenous group, and it is not only their home in the northern foothills of the Sierra de Perijá which is under threat. Environmentalist Elpidio González explains: ‘If they open more mines it will be the end of the Wayúu communities, but also the end of the Sierra, because the forest clearing and pollution will destroy the trees, the rivers, the biodiversity and, ultimately, the water. What was once a mountain jungle will become a desert.’

Maikivalasalii, along with a number of other community and activist groups, is demanding that the Chávez Government fairly enact the 1999 constitution which established the demarcation of indigenous territories. Until now, only tiny blocks of land have been allocated, areas too small to be a source of food and to allow the communities to follow a way of life in accordance with their traditions. Says Jorge: ‘We are going to be the last to leave here, and that is why we want the demarcation of indigenous territories, so that we can protect the land and the water for everyone. We are the guarantors. Our motto is: territory, autonomy, dignity, and no coal.’

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