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Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez gave communal land titles to six communities of the Kariña, which is one of Venezuela’s 28 indigenous peoples, yesterday. The communal land titles will go to 4,000 people and cover 317,000 acres in the eastern Venezuelan states of Monagas and Anzoategui.

The land transfer is part of Mission Guaicaipuro, which is a plan to provide land titles to all of Venezuela’s 28 indigenous peoples.

According to Venezuela’s new 1999 constitution, the county’s indigenous peoples have right to their ancestral territories, a right that had been denied to them for several centuries.

Noheli Pocaterra, the former Vice-President of the National Assembly and one of three representatives of Venezuela’s indigenous peoples in the Assembly, said during the ceremony, “For the first time in Venezuela’s history is justice being done for these peoples.”A Kariña woman said that Chavez “has been the first president who has kept his word to a people who have been stripped of their lands.”

In his speech during the ceremony, Chavez, who considers himself part indigenous, said, “Today we are making history. For 500 years we have brought injustice, disrespect, domination, and massacre... Fatherland, land, and justice for the indios!” He went on to say that the communal culture of the indigenous peoples is an important inspiration for the socialism of the 21st century he wants to construct for Venezuela.

Mission Guaicaipuro, which is one of the numerous social missions that the Chavez government started two years ago, is scheduled to turn over communal land to 15 other indigenous groups before the end of the year. Venezuela’s total indigenous population is estimated to be between 300,000 and 500,000, which is about 1-2% of the population.