- Title: In indigenous Colombia, Venezuelan migration sparks conflict
- Date: 12th March 2020
- Summary: WAYUU WITH TRADITIONAL INSTRUMENT HERDING THE GOATS TO GRAZE CLOSE-UP OF WAYUU RANCHER PLAYING THE INSTRUMENT
- Keywords: La Guajira Venezuela Wayuu humanitarian crisis indigenous migrants shortages
- Reuters ID: LVA002C4QWCAV
- Location: GUAJIRA, COLOMBIA
- City: GUAJIRA, COLOMBIA
- Country: Colombia
- Duration: 00:00:10
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Story Text: In the sun-baked scrubland of northern Colombia's remote La Guajira province, a bitter quarrel rages between two neighboring Wayuu indigenous families, one of them seeking refuge from a humanitarian crisis across the border in Venezuela.
Their feud was sparked by goats. Without fences to stop them, their herds mingle amid the low bushes between the two homesteads, whipped by a hot and dusty desert wind here in ancestral Wayuu territory.
One family, the Ipuana Montiers - who recently returned from Venezuela, fleeing shortages of food and medicine - say they have lost 50 goats to the herd belonging to their more established neighbors, the Ipuana - who count local leaders among their ranks.
Such conflicts over land, water and animals are increasing as Venezuela spirals into disaster and thousands of former migrants return to Colombia, testing the limits of tribal unity, according to Wayuu police and tribal mediators, known as pÃ¼tchipÃ¼'Ã¼.
For already-struggling communities - which often scrape by on subsistence ranching and gasoline smuggling along the border - the needs of returning Wayuu are hard to meet. Malnourishment has long plagued Wayuu children and many communities can ill afford more mouths to feed.
With dozens of disputes now raging, Wayuu leaders say they hope mediation will head off escalations in violence, as brawls break out between neighbors and within families.
In a dark green house with plastic siding at the end of a long, rutted dirt track, Rangel Ipuana - the patriarch of the Ipuana clan and a pÃ¼tchipÃ¼'Ã¼ in his own right - says he wants to avoid conflict, but many of the returnees from Venezuela have forgotten the Wayuu way of life.
Wayuu people - who generally speak both their own Wayuunaiki tongue and Spanish - have citizenship rights in both Colombia and Venezuela.
Many Wayuu migrated to Venezuela over the past two decades to take advantage of free education and other government benefits, but hyperinflation and a six-year recession under President Nicolas Maduro have driven many back.
Yohedys Palmar, a Wayuu police inspector in Castilletes - which overlooks an aquamarine bay in the eastern reaches of Upper Guajira - said there are about 10 active disputes in his area alone, the majority involving some of the thousands of Wayuu who have returned.
Palmar said he had heard of killings in the inland settlement of Jarara, but Reuters was not able to independently confirm this.
Scant mobile phone service makes communication difficult in the impoverished and isolated region. The Colombian state is virtually non-existent.
Maria Elena Ipuana is the matriarch of the Ipuana-Montiers. She has returned to settle in this spit of family property with her husband Angel Jose Montier and more than 40 of her children and grandchildren, after years of sporadic travel back and forth to Maracaibo, a center of the oil industry in Venezuela.
The family is squeezed into five small makeshift houses. Two of the grandchildren, ages 1 and 4, have frail limbs indicative of malnutrition.
And the family is about to grow - Ipuana's sister, brother-in-law and 22 of their children and grandchildren will arrive soon from Venezuela, she said.
A resolution to the goat disagreement would take at least one problem off the family's long list, Ipuana said.
The following day both families descended on the Sapuanas' homestead to shake on a deal: any further dispute between them and the aggressor would owe the other family 50 goats or sheep. They sealed the deal with shots of burning chirinchi liquor.
A reconciliation is the best-case scenario, but there are no shortage of ongoing disputes.
Uribia municipality, whose population of 205,000 is 95% Wayuu, has had at least 38 cases of land conflicts to date involving people returning from Venezuela, Alberto Henriquez, its secretary of indigenous affairs said.
The count of land disagreements that involved violence is 42.
(Production: Herbert Villarraga, Camilo Cohecha)
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