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16 May 2024

Concern over increasing smear campaign against professor and human rights defender Lusbi Portillo

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern over the increasing smear campaign against human rights defender Lusbi Portillo, prompted by the media with private interests, in the framework of his work for environmental and indigenous peoples rights.

Lusbi Portillo is an anthropologist, professor emeritus of the University of Zulia and environmental and indigenous peoples rights defender. During his career, he has promoted the study and awareness of the situation of indigenous peoples in Zulia, and has worked for almost 40 years in the defence of the forests of Lake Maracaibo Basin and the collective rights of the indigenous peoples Yukpa, Bari, Wayuu, Japreria and Añuu.

As a reprisal for his work, Lusbi Portillo has received threats and attacks by national and international mining companies connected to extractive activities and livestock that want to implement their projects in indigenous territories. These attacks have been mainly oriented to the spread, with the support of mass media, of baseless accusations against the human rights defender, which delegitimizes and restricts his work.

In the last few days, news was published accusing the human rights defender of instigating and financing the current conflict that is happening in the Yukpa indigenous communities in the Perijá region, “under the excuse of a fight for indigenous peoples rights.” He has also been accused of receiving external funds to restrict the access of the State to the indigenous territory and to promote the presence of illegal activities in the zone.

The Yukpa indigenous people have been sharing and denouncing the situation of abandonment and precariousness by the State, for which they demand the guarantee of their rights as human beings and indigenous peoples in defence of their territory and for the improvement of their life conditions. However, the response to this situation has been inefficient and suppressive, as their legitimate demands are being silenced with the criminalization of the indigenous movement in the region, affecting in that way the same indigenous peoples and whoever supports them, which is the case of Lusbi Portillo.

Front Line Defenders condemns the use of media to spread false information that undermines the relentless work of defence of Lusbi Portillo for the indigenous peoples’ rights. Front Line Defenders supports the important human rights work by Lusbi Portillo and calls on the different actors of the Venezuelan society, including public authorities, civil society organisations and media, to acknowledge the trajectory and important contribution to indigenous peoples rights by professor Lusbi Portillo over the last 40 years.