The Venezuelan National Assembly passed a new law on Thursday to preserve, promote, and strengthen indigenous artisanship through legal recognition, the creation of indigenous artisan councils, and a special development fund.
The Indigenous Artisans Law declares that indigenous artisanship is an integral part of the nation’s cultural heritage and that it is in the public and social interest to protect it and include it as an educational activity in public schools.
Once President Hugo Chavez signs the law, the productive activity carried out by indigenous peoples using “traditional” materials, techniques, skills, and knowledge will be exempt from national taxes.
To identify and define traditional practices as well as administer this productive activity, the Culture Ministry will create municipal, state, and national indigenous artisan councils made up of indigenous spokespersons designated by their respective communities.
In addition, the law creates a special “Fund for the Integral Social Development of Indigenous Artisans” that will finance the development of the infrastructure, health care, and educational facilities that the artisans need.
The law also requires states and municipalities to establish their own “benefits and fiscal incentives,” including the construction of marketplaces, to foment the artisanship of the indigenous peoples who reside in their districts. And, the national Institute of Cultural Heritage must create a social security program for the artisans and carry out a nation-wide registry of indigenous artisans, together with indigenous communities, in accordance with the law.
Most parts of the new law are mandated by the eight articles that make up Chapter 7 of the National Constitution, titled “Rights of Native Peoples.” Venezuela’s Constitution was written by an elected constituent assembly and passed by popular referendum in 1999, the year President Hugo Chavez first took office.
Article 121 of the Constitution says, “The state shall promote the appreciation and dissemination of the cultural manifestations of the native peoples,” and Article 123 says indigenous peoples “have the right to maintain and promote their own economic practices based on reciprocity, solidarity and exchange; their traditional productive activities and their participation in the national economy.”
Moreover, Article 124 prohibits the patenting of indigenous ancestral knowledge.
As a result of constitutional mandates, Venezuelan indigenous communities have gained representation in the government and received more social services than ever before, but conflicts persist over the ownership and mining of their ancestral lands.