Self-Determination, Sovereignty and Autonomy: A Comparative Analysis between Venezuela and the U.S. (1)

Autor:Ricardo Colmenares Olívar
Cargo:Tenured Professor and Researcher with the Legal Anthropology Section. Institute of Philosophy of Law. University of Zulia Maracaibo, Venezuela
Revista de Filosofía Jurídica, Social y Política
Instituto de Filosofía del Derecho Dr. J.M. Delgado Ocando
Universidad del Zulia. Dep. legal pi201502ZU4644
Self-Determination, Sovereignty
and Autonomy:
A Comparative Analysis between Venezuela
and the U.S. (1)
Ricardo Colmenares Olívar
Tenured Professor and Researcher with the Legal Anthropology Section.
Institute of Philosophy of Law.
University of Zulia
Maracaibo - Venezuela
This legal and socio-political research attempts to determine the scope of
the terms of self-determination, sovereignty and self-government (autonomy) and
their implications in Venezuelan and American domestic law. This work also aims
to evince whether the standards set out in international instruments of the United
Nations on the matter are being met in both countries or not.
Keywords: Self-determination; sovereignty; autonomy; civil participation;
political control; indigenous jurisdiction.
Recibido: 07-07-2015 • Aceptado: 28-07-2015
Ricardo Colmenares Olívar
Frónesis Vol. 22, No. 2 (2015) 87-118
Autodeterminación, Soberanía y Autonomía:
Un Análisis Comparativo entre Venezuela y
Esta investigación jurídica y socio-política intenta determinar el alcance de
los términos de la autodeterminación, la soberanía y la autonomía (autogobierno)
y sus implicaciones en el derecho interno venezolano y estadounidense. Este
trabajo también pretende evidenciar si en ambos países se están cumpliendo o
no las normas establecidas en los instrumentos internacionales de las Naciones
Unidas en la materia.
Palabras clave:
1. Introduction
The analysis of the right to self-determination recognized in international
law for States and its interrelationship with the concept of sovereignty used in
American legislation is one of the most controversial points in international law.
This right to self-determination is key in deciding whether the indigenous are
considered “peoples” rather than populations or ethnic minorities. Moreover, it is
necessary to establish the difference between self-determination, self-government
(or political autonomy) and self-management, (2) since the last two terms are
often used with the same connotation as the rst, although each one represents a
different concept.
The right to self-determination for all peoples, as a global concept,
becomes a right for all human beings to pursue their material, cultural and
spiritual development as a social group; that is, to control their own destiny,
which manifests itself “externally” through the autonomy and self-management
of each people. Autonomy, also called self-governance, refers to the political and
administrative independence of peoples, which includes the right to resolve their
issues directly according to their own laws. Meanwhile, self-management, also
called self-development, is linked to developmental mechanisms implemented by
the creativity of each people, using their own means for economic and cultural
survival. (3)
According to the XIVth National Population and Housing Census of 2011,
conducted by the National Institute of Statistics (INE), Venezuela’s indigenous
Autodeterminación; soberanía; autonomía; participación
ciudadana; control político; jurisdicción indígena.
Self-determination, sovereignty and autonomy: A Comparative Analysis between
Venezuela and the U.S. 89
population is approximately 724,592 persons in 44 culturally differentiated
peoples, representing an increase of 43.1% compared to the 2001 census.
Indigenous peoples constitute 2.8% of the total population. All the indigenous
communities are located in eight states: Amazonas, Apure, Anzoategui, Bolivar,
Delta Amacuro, Monagas, Sucre and Zulia, although 61% is concentrated in the
State of Zulia with the Wayuu people (4), the largest indigenous group. Even
though some peoples could be catalogued as “minorities” from the numeric point
of view (5), this does not imply any lack of recognition of their rights, or much
less, a lack of protection and guarantees.
On the other hand, indigenous peoples in the United States are constituted
by American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian peoples. According to
the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 5.2 million identied as American Indian and
Alaska Native, “…either alone or in com bination with one or more other races,
registering a high growth of 39.2 percent since the last 2000 census. Thus, the
indigenous constitute approximately 1.7% of the American population. The
Cherokee Nation (819,105 members) is the largest American Indian population
in the entire territory (6). Furthermore, according to Indian Affairs of the U.S.
Department of the Interior, there are 566 federally recognized American Indian
and Alaska Natives tribes in the United States (7). There is also a complex body
of Federal Indian Law recognized by Congress and the courts, which occasionally
delimits issues inherent in the internal sovereignty of tribes (8).
Several Indian tribes are treated as sovereign nations because some of them
have their own constitutions, possessing the right to “change and growth,” (9)
applying this sovereignty only over tribal members and the territories they occupy.
(10) Regarding the governmental structure of the Indian tribes, some of them have
a tri-partite form of government with executive, legislative and judicial branches,
while smaller tribes have little or no separation of powers, trying to “…reect
and reinforce their tribal traditions and cultures, and t with contemporary tribal
needs for political and legal accountability.” (11)
Therefore, this article will focus on the rst two terms: self-determination
and autonomy. The most important thing is to use an appropriate term that reects,
in a clear and indubitable way, the right of the authorities of indigenous peoples to
apply customary law within their territorial spaces, taking into account international
standards and respecting laws and judicial decisions in both countries, Venezuela
and United States.
2. Scope of the Term Self-Determination in International Law
The right of peoples to self-determination appeared in a statement for the
rst time as a general principle in the Charter of the United Nations in 1945.

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