Alexandra Lezama is a human rights defender from Gran Sabana, in the State of Bolivar, a southeastern region of Venezuela part of the Guianan savanna ecoregion.
She works with young people in her community, with whom she advocates for the conservation of their environment to protect it from pollution caused by illegal mining activities.
Alexandra also seeks to find alternative solutions for social and economic development for her community, where most people are currently forced to work in mining to provide for their basic needs.
She told ISHR what drove and inspired her to work in the defence of human rights and what kind of support she sought from the international community and UN bodies.
Mining was previously only practiced on a small scale in Alexandra’s region, mostly to extract materials used to adorn cultural and religious garments. It has now become a widespread practice across Venezuela with devastating environmental and social consequences.
Armed groups and the army compete for access to gold, diamonds and coltan, and local communities face acute economic and ecological problems, forcing them to leave their ancestral lands in search of better education, quality of life and work.
Pollution, deforestation, contamination of water and the spread of diseases are among the alarming consequences of mining, affecting biodiversity and communities.
In this context, Alexandra fears that the remaining Amazon will be destroyed, diseases will continue to spread, education will continue to fall and an increased number of people will leave the country in search of stability.
What does Alexandra want for her community?
1. The Venezuelan government must ensure the rights of the people are respected through the practical implementation of human rights recommendations, particularly on sustainable development.
2. The protection of the environment from illegal and abusive mining.
The earth is our refuge. We must protect it and take care of it because the future of many generations depends on it.
How can the United Nations human rights system support Alexandra’s claims?
In 2019, the Human Rights Council established the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Venezuela to assess alleged human rights violations committed in the country since 2014. The mission’s mandate was renewed in 2022 for another two years. In its 2022 report, the Mission analysed the situation for indigenous communities ‘caught in the violent battle between State and armed criminal groups for the control of gold’ in Alexandra’s State, Bolívar.
For Alexandra, this mechanism is of utmost importance as, through representatives such as herself, peoples can communicate to the Mission concrete cases of human rights abuses that occurred in Venezuela. It provides a channel through which victims have the opportunity to speak up, allowing the international community to be aware of the situation of human rights in the country.
In March 2023, Alexandra spoke before the Human Rights Council to expose the impacts of illegal mining and environment destruction in the border region of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana, in her home the State of Bolívar.