The Tragedy Of The Yukpa People Fleeing Venezuela

The Tragedy Of The Yukpa People Fleeing Venezuela

By Jaime Moreno / Voice of America
January 10, 2020

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The economic crisis in Venezuela has endangered the survival of the Yukpa people, an ancestral indigenous community that has been forced to emigrate looking for food.

For centuries, the Yukpa people have lived in the Perijá mountains, Zulia state, but for the past three years at least 350 of its members live in an improvised camp near the Táchira River, in Cúcuta, Colombia.

The tribe lives in poor conditions, but its members don’t believe that going back to Venezuela is an option. “We are doing some work here, looking for scrap metal. Children eat only once a day,” Dionisio Finol, one of the chiefs at the Cúcuta camp, told Venezuela 360.

“Today I went to collect some scrap metal, and that’s how I support my children,” he added, as he described one of the most serious problems affecting the tribe: hunger.

In Venezuela, the Yukpa people were devoted to agriculture, and part of what they produced was sold to buy basic foods, like rice or pasta. Due to inflation, these foods have now become luxury products.

“You can’t buy [anything] with Venezuelan money, it’s too expensive, and you can’t find medicine and food. That’s not a problem here in Colombia, because you work and you eat,” says José, the other chief at the camp.

“We struggle to eat and to prepare at least some soup,” says Noremi Romero, as she cooks for her eight children.

The levels of malnutrition are threatening the future livelihood of the tribe, with children being the most vulnerable group due to the lack of food and nutrients to support their normal growth process.

Limited help
Traditionally, the Yukpa people were split in two groups: those living in the Perijá mountains, on the Colombian side, and those in Venezuelan territory.

Government assistance for the Venezuelan Yukpa is limited, because they are not legally recognized as binational indigenous people in Colombia. Consequently, they don’t have the same access to social programs as the Yukpa members who lived in the Perijá mountains on the Colombian side, who are protected under special indigenous jurisdiction.

By the end of the 16th century, the Yukpa people sought refuge in the Perijá mountains to survive the violence of Spanish conquistadors. Today, starvation threatens the existence of a community that has been forced to leave their ancestral refuge in the quest for food.