Indigenous Groups Hoaxed by Ruthless Conman

December 1995

Several hundred Venezuelan Indians were left stranded in Caracas this weekend after conman, Guillermo
Olivares, lured them there with false promises of an indigenous crafts fair.

The 368 indians, from various communities in the southern state of Amazonas, arrived in Caracas Friday night after travelling nearly 1,000 kilometres by bus and truck hoping to sell their craftwork in the city.

The craft fair was to occur between the 15th and 20th of this month, in the run up to Christmas, supposedly under the control of the State National Culture Council in the central Sabana Grande zone of the city.

When they arrived, no one was expecting them. There was no craft fair, nor was there anyone to pay the angry drivers who had brought them there.

They were abandoned in the centre of a violent city where indigenous people are prohibited from selling their goods in the street.

Luckily for them the central area of the city is also the site of the public central university, which took in the travellers.

”It was then that the role of conman Guillermo Olivares, a false cultural promotor in Amazonas, was discovered. He tricked the people with the help of an Indian called Ricardo Barrera,” University security chief, Lenin Molina told IPS.

”For two or three months (Olivares) promoted the fair in Amazonas, while he negotiated the permits in Caracas. He didn’t get these, and instead of stopping the process he let it continue in the hopes of charging a percentage of everything sold,” he added.

The people ”arrived thinking they had board and lodging, so even women with small babies came, in a procession which shows the inexistence of mechanisms to detect in time and help our indian brothers in their tasks and concerns,” he added.

The University, the Culture Council, Parliament and the Governor of Amazonas, Bernabe Gutierrez worked together on Saturday to feed the people and arrange their journey home.

But the humilliation was not over. It was decided to house the Indians in the former prison of San Carlos, a horrific building awaiting conversion into a museum.

When the first bus load of indians arrived, the soldiers refused to accept them, dubbing them ”subversives,” ordering
them to clean up the building, said group leader Rafael Estrada.

The group was finally sent home on Sunday night, crossing the Orinoco on their journey south around Monday lunch time.

Meanwhile, the authorities launched an investigation to find out how Olivares was able to promote the fake fair, and how he was able to get official support for this.

The indigenous peoples of Amazonas are especially susceptible to this sort of abuse. They live in a wild 175,000 square
kilometre region where 40,000 of the 90,000 inhabitants come from 18 different tribal groups, and there is no central national entity working for their cause.

The people of Amazonas were recently subjected to a system of new internal state divisions which bore no relation to the layout of their ancestral lands. Their complaints fell on deaf ears.

Also, two years ago 16 Yanomami people (from a group of 8,000) were killed by gold miners from neighbouring Brazil. The authorities took so long deciding which country the events occurred in, that little was actually done to resolve the case.

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