Revolutionary Indigenous Leader Assassinated in Venezuela

‘A powerful visionary, a talented leader and a passionate voice in the Indigenous land struggle’

By Emelie Rosenblatt

Cacique Sabino Romero

Yukpa Indigenous leader Cacique Sabino Romero has been brutally assassinated in Zulia, Venezuela, near the Colombian border. An emblematic leader in the struggle for Indigenous land rights, Cacique Sabino had survived nearly a decade of death threats and assassination attempts on behalf of the elite landowners, whose largely vacant pastures he fought to reclaim for the Yukpa people, succeeding in no fewer than 14 land takeovers.

On the night of March 3, two gunmen on motorcycles, suspected to have been hired by the landowners, ambushed Cacique Sabino and his wife as they walked along a rural highway in Zulia on their way to vote in Yukpa tribal elections. The masked gunmen assassinated Sabino, and his wife suffered injuries during the shooting.

Thousands of Venezuelans poured into the streets the next day to demand justice for those responsible for the attack. The United Socialist Party (PSUV) administration has launched a full-scale investigation into the assassination.

For nearly a decade, Cacique Sabino’s efforts to take back Yukpa lands for communal ownership drew attention throughout Latin America and around the world. In particular, his leadership during the Yukpa occupation of the Chaktapa estates in 2009 brought global recognition to the struggles of Indigenous Venezuelans to reclaim ancestral lands that had belonged to them as recently as the 1980s. In response to the Yukpa movement, several elite landowners hired mercenary assassins who made ceaseless attempts on Sabino’s life, including a ruthless attack on his family’s home that resulted in the death of his elderly father.

On surviving another assassination attempt in 2012, Cacique Sabino told the media: “The cattle ranchers and landowners threaten me because they don’t want to leave our land. They’ve persecuted me because I’m strong. The other strong Caciques are already dead. I’m not strong to fight with the force of the bullet, but with the force of words.” Five Yukpa leaders close to Sabino had been assassinated in a two-month period earlier that year.

In a televised speech in 2008, President Hugo Chávez praised Cacique Sabino’s work on behalf of the Yukpa and all Indigenous peoples. Chávez reaffirmed the Venezuelan government’s commitment to supporting their struggle, stating, “There should be no doubt that, between the hacienda owners and the Indigenous people, this government stands with the Indigenous.” Addressing a crowd that broke into a thunderous applause, President Chávez continued: “Justice for the Indians! Land for the Indians!”

In the death of Cacique Sabino Romero, the movement loses a powerful visionary, a talented leader and a passionate voice in the Indigenous land struggle, but his revolutionary legacy lives on as a symbol of resistance for people everywhere. Cacique Sabino Romero ¡Presente!