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Mystery surrounds massacre at Venezuelan village

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 6th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Questions continue to swirl around the massacre of 80 men, women and children in a remote Venezuelan outpost. According to indigenous organizations, the Yanomami people were reportedly killed in July by wildcat gold miners from Brazil.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Although there are questions about the number of victims, the activity of the garimpeiros (illegal gold miners who cross the border from Brazil) in that area and their sometimes difficult relations with the Yanomami communities have been known about for years," José Ángel Divassón, a Catholic bishop in Amazonas state told IPS.

Located at the bottom tip of Venezuela, the area of 108 square miles is home to 15 different indigenous groups. A large part of the state is covered with virgin jungle fed by the waters of the tributaries of the Orinoco and Amazon rivers.

As way of explanation of the massacre, an environmental protection law banned mining in the entire mineral-rich state in 1989.

But "the garimpeiros, pressured by the authorities in northern Brazil, cross into Venezuela and establish relations with the Yanomami, to get their support in exchange for some goods. But sometimes that cooperation breaks down," Divassón says. His order carries out missionary work throughout the state of Amazonas.

The Horonami Yanomami Organization filed a request in the public prosecutor's office in Puerto Ayacucho last month for an investigation of the massacre reported by three survivors from Irotatheri, the village where the killings apparently took place in early July.

The Horonami Organization's request was backed by four other communities in the area of the headwaters of the Ocamo river and the Parima Sierra along the border with Brazil.

The survivors "had gone out to hunt and heard the noise of a helicopter in which the garimpeiros arrived, and the sound of explosions and gunshot in the 'shabono' (round, straw-roofed communal hut), which they found burnt down. Eighty people lived there," Horonami leader Luis Shatiwë told prosecutors.

Members of the Hokomawe community also saw the burnt remains of the shabono. Charred human bodies and bones were also in plain view. The group informed Shatiwë, who reported it to members of army Brigade 52, which operates in the area, on July 27, according to the Horonami Organization.

Marcos de Oliveira at Brazil's Socio-environmental Institute told newspaper journalists that an injured survivor from Irotatheri reached a shabono on the Brazilian side of the border, where he was given medical assistance and was taken in by relatives in another community.

"Due to the community's remote location, it took the Indians who discovered the bodies days to walk to the nearest settlement to report the tragedy," according to Survival International, a global organization that helps tribal peoples.

Thirteen native organizations from the region, representing different indigenous communities, expressed solidarity with the Horonami Organization's denunciation. They said in a statement that the Yanomami communities in the area of the headwaters of the Ocamo river "have been invaded and attacked by illegal miners from Brazil for more than four years.

"Since 2009, we have been informing state bodies in Venezuela of the presence of garimpeiros in the Alto Ocamo, attacks on the Momoi and Hokomawe communities, physical violence, threats, the exploitation of women, and the contamination of water with mercury, which has left a number of Yanomami dead," the document says.

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

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