It was not difficult to empathize with Arawak indian chief Daniel Gomez after a few bars of "Oh! Danny Boy" sung in something scarcely described as unison in his leisurely encampment in the southeastern jungles of Venezuela's Bolivar State.
A Che Guevara look-alike who holds 'El Che' as a role model for the liberation of all of South America, Chief Daniel compares the current 'Cowboys & Indians' scenario taking place in his homelands as not dissimilar to the North American Wild West trauma of almost two hundred years ago with greedy gold prospectors running roughshod over the rights of indigenous tribes, leading almost to their extinction, and nevertheless disastrous changes to centuries of traditions and way of life that had existed before the white man came to call.
TODAY it's the turn of 'gringo' trans-national mining companies to run roughshod over the indigenous tribes of South America ... tribal indians that have been here since long before they foolishly welcomed Christopher Columbus to their shores.
The comparison is being made by Arawak chief Daniel Gomez who says that Columbus' arrival to South America, on his second trip across the Atlantic, was the beginning of a disastrous process that -- like in 1800s North America -- almost led to the extinction of thousands of native indians and the lifestyles they had led for centuries before the white man came to ravage the pristine rain forest in search of gold.
Arawak chief Daniel 'El Che' Gomez with
VHeadline editor & publisher Roy S. Carson
Daniel doesn't have much time for the latter-day cowboys and prefers to stay well away from them in his jungle habitat where he received us with typical Arawak generosity taking a huge machete to chop the heads off ripened coconuts to give us to drink the refreshing milk inside, giving pause from the beating heat of the tropical sun.
It was about as far away from 'White Christmas' as you could possibly think to get ... the outside world was moons away ... native indian children splashing in the river and a little indian girl and her sister washing plastic cups and plates a little downstream from them.
- The hustle and bustle of a so-called 'civilized' Christmas seemed so very unnecessary in continuum of Arawak indian living.
A pregnant 20-year-old, speaking excellent English with just a twang of Guyanese from across the nearby Guyanese border (which doesn't really exist in the jungle more than a GPS signal, and who cares anyway!) with the Essequibo, is expecting a baby boy in early January. She has high hopes that he will grow up to be an engineer, a doctor or a teacher ... but she's damned sure she'll insist that he never loses his Arawak roots, although the dangers of so-called 'civilization' are enticing tribe members all the while.
Daniel has sampled the 'outside world' on several trips to meet tribal brothers in Canada and knows how they feel about the unwanted intrusion of "civilization" into the set of values, morals and common decencies they call their own. He says he has taken his son into the jungle many times to show him what truly makes an Arawak indian tick; how to use the bounty of nature without raping Mother Nature, always conscientious of the fact that indians/human beings are but a part of the complexity that, in reality, is simplicity itself.
Drawn on the issue of just how the indian tribes, the Yanomami, the Pemon and the Awawaks view the cowboys -- which is how he describes the antipathy he has for anyone who abuses the earth, the land and the sky -- Daniel is unequivocal. With genuine Arawak hospitality he says anyone, repeat anyone, is welcome to share what God had given in the bounty of it all, but that the cowboys are bereft of all consideration for what "living" is all about ... "In their lust for gold, they (the cowboys) are prepared to commit just about any atrocity you can think of , and then some more! We Arawaks have seen how outsiders have come to share with us and have gone away with incredible riches, turning their backs on us. They are friendly as long as they think they can exploit us for cheap labor to dig the gold out of the ground for them, but when the gold has gone, they're gone too ... and, frankly, we are the winners since we always have our indian life and customs to fall back on and we know how to survive, no matter how greedy the gringos can be!"
The pregnant 20-year-old, her aunt and mother are wearing Las Brisas del Cuyuni t-shirts in different colors -- it's almost an expression of "been there, got the t-shirt!" but with precious little else remaining. The government is building houses in the indian villages for them to have permanent abode and teachers are drafted in to teach willing pupils basic numeracy and reading/writing skills. They've been waiting for Gold Reserve to give them jobs which have been a long time coming and there's little prospect of any reasonably gainful employment unless the mine gets into operation -- QUICKLY!
Chief Daniel applauds the government's initiative to form socialist 50/50 joint ventures with foreign investors and says it is the only means by which the cowboys can be made to understand that the future of Venezuela's gold sector is intrinsically bound up with the future of the indigenous and local labor force which has so sadly been neglected by exploitative trans-nationals who descend on their communities from afar and expect them to up anchor from their settlements to make way for gigantic bulldozers and diggers.
"The land is ours, the gold deposit is ours ... Venezuelans', native indians'... it has always belonged to us! We have an integral right to decide what to do with our natural resources! Of course, if foreign investors want to bring in technology to help realize the gold potential that is Venezuela's, we will NOT stop them! But when they act like cowboys and gun-slingers trying to force everything on us, then we will say STOP!"
For one reason or another they see Las Brisas del Cuyuni under Gold Reserve management as a complete and utter failure. "Yes, there are a few scattered social projects but it is more like throwing crumbs to the dogs! Here in our camp, even the dogs are treated as part of the community, everyone forms part of the whole community ... that's how it should be ... it's something that's been forgotten in the gringo mentality, they want to grab, grab, grab! Indians aren't like that ... we have respect for life and for each other!"
Gilberto Berrio has been working with indian communities for some time now and believes he knows the heart and soul of the matter. he is a strong advocate of the socialist 50/50 joint venture principle and points out that it is the government's responsibility to come up with 50% of any such venture, whether it be a 50/50 share in the ultimate ownership of the gold reserve or the management of it. What he would prefer, though, is for Venezuelan citizens to be included as an integral part of the 50/50 line-up since they are every bit as much an asset as investment money from the outside.