HAVANA TIMES — In November of 2012, Sabino Romero and a group of Yukpa natives arrived in Caracas again to try and find a solution to the problems facing the Sierra de Perija, land that is their home. There was no response from the government.
On March 3 of the following year, a mere four months later, several hired thugs killed the courageous Yukpa leader in Tokuko. Today, the government proudly announces it has put the man who murdered Sabino behind bars. The irony.
On Friday, August 14 this year, Angel Antonio Romero Bracho was sentenced to 30 years in prison for acting as a hired killer and taking part in a criminal conspiracy, charges based on a special legislation on organized crime. Known in the Machiques region as “El Manguera” (The Hose), the thug was the bodyguard and driver of cattle rancher Jose Ignacio Peña Romero.
Two years after the murder, the legal proceedings brought against the hired killer did justice to the indigenous leader. However, those who followed the process from the beginning, who defend the rights of natives and who knew about and supported his cause, are asking themselves why the government didn’t take decisive action when it could still save the life of Sabino Romero.
It’s curious that the other six individuals implicated in the murder of the indigenous leader were tried far more quickly and, at a moment when social and indigenous activists had their guard down, were convicted to a mere seven years in prison. I say this because these sentences are, in good measure, the result of the pressure they applied. Bearing in mind the history of Sabino’s relationship with government authorities, if it wasn’t for the activists efforts I believe there was a good chance “El Manguera” would have walked away with a sentence like those of his accomplices.
Who was behind the death of Sabino Romero?
It’s La Gadema (a Venezuelan association of cattle farmers), based in Machiques, the Bolivarian National Guard, the government of the state of Zulia, the national Venezuelan government, transnational mining and fast-food companies (such as Frito-Lay), private and Venezuelan State media, paramilitary units, guerrilla cells and Colombian settlers.
All of them, and even a number of Yukpas and the Capuchin priest Nelson Sandoval (at the Tokuko Mission) have blood on their hands.
Sabino was not only claiming back land for the Yukpas, he was also opposed to the continuous felling of hundreds of hectares of forest for the growing of cassava and for mining.
It is more convenient for the government to portray itself as a dispenser of prompt justice and to put away one of the murderers than to continue to deal with the memory of a leader who couldn’t be bought with “aid” or gifts from the Ministry of the People’s Power for Indigenous Populations. For that reason, this government office barely took heed of the constant massacres of indigenous populations at the Sierra de Perija.
Many politicians are now applauding the decisions arrived at in connection with the Sabino Romero case, but such celebration is hypocritical, as, initially, they dismissed him as a common criminal or refused to offer him any help.
The minds behind this execution (and many other such acts in the region), those who paid “El Manguera” to pull the trigger, have yet to be brought to trial. If this happens, many will be pleased and the Venezuelan government will consider its debt with the Yukpas settled. It will again forget that these lands are being taken and governed by the guerrilla and paramilitary, it will again abandon the Yukpas to their own resources before the ranchers, it will continue with its plans to extract coal and other minerals from the region and release the National Guard officers who killed Cristobal Fernandez, the last of the three sons of leader Carmen “Anita”. It remains to be seen whether those who have the money and power in Venezuela will stand trial.
For now, this is the first time in the history of this country in which a man is convicted for murdering an indigenous person.
Documentary on Sabino Romero