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Rupununi Uprising

Venezuelan diplomatic personnel were involved in a covert plot to interfere in Guyana's internal affairs by fomenting an uprising among the Amerindian Rupununi tribe against the government of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. The Venezuelan authorities were encouraging a secessionist movement among the Rupununis in the area that Venezuela coveted. The intent was to later annex the region as part of Venezuelan Gtayana.

In January 1969, residents of the Rupununi area staged an Uprising demanding their Independence. The insurgents attacked the Lethem Police Station, killing five policemen and one Amerindian, who was a member of the Board of Directors of the Guyana School of Agriculture.

Members of the Guyana Defence Force were flown into the area. The plane which carried the detachment of the soldiers, found the airstrip inaccessible with trees and other obstacles. Hence they were forced to land at Moinari some 10 m away. There was a confrontation with the insurgents and members of the GDF, Karasabi was the first to be retaken, subsequently Lethem, Annai, and Good Hope. Four members of the GDF were seriously injured but there was no fatality. The Rebels fled to Brazil after the attempt failed. The retaking of the South West Region of Guyana was a brilliant GDF operation to capture the insurgents and maintain Guyana as an indivisible sovereign nation.

The complete story of this incident has still not been learned. What has been revealed is that, at the end of December 1968 and the beginning of January 1969, an ethnic group in Guyana—Amerindians (Pemones and Akawaios) — who lived in the Rupununi region close to the Venezuelan "Gran Sabana" decided to carry out a conspiracy hatched from despair at the mistreatment and discrimination that it suffered from Burnham's racist government. It rebelled.

Surely it had received some encouragement from the Venezuelan authorities and the plan, apparently, was to consolidate a rebellion around the town of Lethem, declare itself independent of Guyana and request and obtain annexation to Venezuela before the Georgetown government could react.

It must be remembered that there had been elections in Vene- zuela then and, contrary to what the government thought, the winner was Rafael Caldera who had obtained at least 30,000 more votes than Gonzalo Barrios. Therefore, when the rebellion broke out in Rupununi, Venezuela was in a "transition" period with a lame-duck president, Raul Leoni, who had to hand over the power in March and an elected president, Rafael Caldera, who had no government responsibilities. That was the situation when, at the beginning of January, the Rupununi uprising and its tragic end with murders, mistreatment, torture, confiscation and refugees in Venezuela — those who managed to escape with their lives — was learned of.

In his last message of March 1969, Raul Leoni referred to the event with very harsh words for Guyana. He called them "racists" and accused them of genocide "foreign to this continent" against the frustrated rebels.

What was the inside story of this fiasco? It was learned that there was definite aid from Venezuela to the refugees. There was definite, unambiguous pressure from the US ambassador in Caracas and his British colleague, "ordering" the Venezuelan Government not to become involved and warning it very clearly that "they would not tolerate" a change in the "status quo" through rebellion, autonomy and annexation. They know about that and the Spaniards and Mexicans know it better.

It was learned that Venezuela gave some support and that the Venezuelan civilian "contact" was a Cuban named Orlando Garcia, notorious for his role in blowing up a Cuban airplane and his friendship with a Cuban assassin and drug trafficker whom Perez named chief of "counterintelligence" in his DISIP /Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services/.

What was censurable was to make those unfortunate people believe that Venezuela was a serious, organized, efficient country that keeps its word and makes its actions follow its words. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Amerindians paid with their lives for their faith that the Venezuelan claim was serious and would not be entangled in political pettiness, civic cowardice, ineptitude and stupidity. Caldera proceeded in bad faith when he tried to justify the mistake of the Protocol with the mistake of Rupununi.

If the "sin" of having helped those credulous unfortunate people is contrasted with the position that Guyana maintained in the Joint Commission since 1966, the Venezuelan "bad faith" of giving encouragement to the racially oppressed Amerindians paled compared to the Guyanese sin of mocking its word given in the 1966 Geneva Agreement. Guyana could be accused of breaking its word, not Venezuela.

Rupununi - Geography

Stretching southwards from the Pakaraima mountains, the Rupununi is an endless savanna interspersed with rivers, whose banks are lined with gallery forest. The name "Rupununi" originates from the Makushi (a dialect of one of the communities) word rapon, which is a black-bellied whistling duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis) found along the river. Sir Walter Raleigh claimed that the Rupununi was where the famed El Dorado was situated, however he never explored the river. Other early explorers such as Charles Waterton and Robert Schomburgk attempted to locate El Dorado, and successfully managed to visit the supposed location.

The Rupununi region is located on the Amazon-Essiquibo divide and forms a tectonic depression in the heart of the Guiana Shield. Terrace and dune sands, cobbles and boulders of various rock-types, climatic and vegetative changes during the Pleistocene, and erosion surfaces, are factors in the evolution of the present northern Rupununi landscape.

Climate, characterised as it is in many parts of the Amazon Basin by a distinctive dry season of up to seven months in length, as in the Rupununi-Rio Branco region, often makes the presence of tropical rain forest problematical and predisposes the environment towards the development of savanna vegetation. Low soil fertility and laterite are frequently considered as prime determinants of savanna vegetation but here they are considered as features associated with savanna landscapes, especially on senile, pediplaned surfaces. Ocassionally they may be resultant factors, as when the nutrient cycle is broken after the disappearance of forest cover.

The main forest vegetation is found on hills and mountains along the physiographic margin of the Savanna which occupies a late Tertiary lowland. There is a general coincidence of semi-deciduous forest grading into rain-forest dt higher elevations on elevated terrain, and savanna with bush islands in the lowland. Bush islands and galeria forest in the savanna are distinct formations both floristically and physiognomically, and differ from the main forest associations. Soil water and ground water levels in the savanna differ markedly from those of the uplands.

An abrupt change occurs in ecological conditions at the end of the rainy season. Whereas the relationships among rainfall, soil water conditions and rinoff during the rainy season are direct, soil moisture ccntent and water table levels are quickly affected at onset of the dry season. The bioclimatic response to the dry season began shortly after cessation of rains.

Fire, which is also frequently considered a prime determinant, is generally a maintaining factor, but in limited areas may be causal, in the sense that it is immediate in chronological terms. Palynological data for the Llanos Orientales of Colombia and the Rupununi Savanas of Guyana (British Guiana) suggest that human influence was probably an important factor 3.000 years BP.

Annual fires in the savanna may well contribute to maintainirg the sharpness of the boundary, but it appears that the respective environments are hostile to invasion by vegetation across the forest-savanna boundary. Savanna tree species are intolerant of shaded conditions that occur in the forest. Conversely, the forest trees are fire-susceptible, particularly in the sapling stage, and therefore, would not regenerate easily in the savanna. Furthermore, the abrupt change in fuel. types and quantity across the vegetation boundary results in radical change in potential combustibility. Stoniness and lack of surface litter may account for inability of fire to penetrate into the dry semi-deciduous forest from the savanna.

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Page last modified: 14-05-2017 18:36:07 ZULU