Social Issues

Indigenous community in Venezuela reduced to scavenging landfill

By Genesis Carrero Soto

Bolivar, Venezuela, Apr 28 (EFE).- After three decades as the principal economic support for some 1,300 Warao indigenous people, the Cambalache landfill in the southeastern Venezuelan state of Bolivar can no longer sustain a community abandoned by the government.

The Warao – the name means “people of the water” – were living in the Orinoco Delta, located in what is now northeastern Venezuela, when Europeans arrived in the New World.

Driven off the ancestral lands where they lived from fishing and hunting, the Warao retreated southward along the river and one group, today numbering 266 families, settled 30 years ago on the banks of the Orinoco near Cambalache, which sits on the edge of Ciudad Guayana.

The landfill had already surpassed safe-capacity limits by the time authorities officially closed it in 2014, yet Cambalache continues to operate informally.

The Warao dwell in shacks cobbled together from tin and plastic sheeting, without running water or electricity, and limited access to education, with only one teacher for the community’s 491 school-age children.

“There is nobody here who helps and that’s why I don’t ask anybody for help,” is how ailing 33-year-old Yudelina Mendez sums up the Warao’s plight from the hammock where she spends most of her days.

Mendez has suffered for more than a year from a mysterious illness that leaves her weak, fatigued, and unable to care for her six children.

And though she desperately wants to get better, Yudelina tells Efe with a tone of resignation that she has no expectation of getting medical care.

“We in the indigenous community are doing a little poorly because we don’t have work,” Warao cacique (chief) Venancio Narvaez told Efe, accusing the Venezuelan government of failing to deliver on promises of housing and land.

“We are truly abandoned,” he said.

Most families survive by working for the criminal outfit that strips Bolivar’s factories of metals, wiring, and other commodities and uses the Warao settlement as a warehouse for the looted material.

“Sometimes we have only rice to eat or only arepa (cornmeal pancakes),” Yesleimi Cleviel says while holding her year-old twins, afflicted with malnutrition, fever, diarrhea and skin blotches.

Kape Kape, an independent advocacy organization, cites figures from July 2021 showing that 93 percent of indigenous households in Venezuela suffer from food insecurity, including 56 percent contending with severe insecurity.

The one ray of hope is provided by Maria Nuñez, an indigenous teacher who arrived two years ago and decided to stay and offer primary-level education to 47 youngsters in a classroom set up by Unicef.

EFE

gcs/dr

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