Sep 5th, 2012
UPDATE (Sep 10, 2012): A thorough investigation has confirmed that no massacre took place at the village in question. This is, of course, great news! As Ahni of Intercontinental Cry wrote: “We’re more than a little relieved to hear that, especially given the sharp rise of violence against Indigenous Peoples in recent months. Paramilitary groups, vigilantes, security personnel, hired guns, even entire battalions are lashing out from Brazil to Honduras to India to West Papua. It’s the same thing everywhere.”
Illegal gold miners from Brazil crossed the Venezuelan border and massacred an entire village of Yanomami Indians, Survival International reported last week. The massacre had been carried out in early July, but it took time for news to get out of Venezuela’s remote Momoi region.
The Venezuelan government said it could find no evidence of any massacre, but indigenous solidarity activists speculated that government investigators hadn’t even been able to find the village in question, due to its remote location.
“According to local testimonies an armed group flew over in a helicopter, opening fire with guns and launching explosives into Irotatheri settlement in the High Ocamo area. The village was home to about 80 people and only three had been accounted for as survivors, according to people from a neighbouring village and indigenous rights activists,” the Guardian reported.
Luis Shatiwe Yanomami of the Yanomami organization Horonami said that his people have been fighting illegal gold miners for years.
Indigenous rights lawyer Luis Bello noted that illegal mining operations are an increasing problem and “have also become more sophisticated. They used to fly in and land in clandestine strips, now they come in helicopters and use huge extracting machinery that is decimating the jungle.”
As we recently reported, exports from illegal mining has now surpassed drug trafficking in Latin America. The industry is responsible for widespread ecological devastation and human rights abuses. According to Survival International, more than 1,000 illegal gold miners are operating in Yanomami territory alone.
This story highlights a point we have made often: indigenous communities are on the front lines and bear the first impacts of infrastructure expansion. The violence against indigenous communities is often more obvious and overt than against others who lie in the path of infrastructure expansion, made all the more so in this case by the illegal nature of the mining operation. But the violence that underlies the global economic system is the same.