As many as 80 Yanomami Indians have been killed in a "massacre" carried out by unauthorized gold miners from Brazil, leaving charred remains of a community and polluted rivers in its wake.
Survival International, a London-based groups that works for tribal peoples’ rights worldwide, says that the massacre took place in July but news of the event is only coming to light now due to the community's remote location in Venezuela's Momoi region close to the border with Brazil.
The Guardian reports on the details of the massacre: "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."
Witnesses who saw the aftermath of the massacre reported seeing "burnt bodies and bones" and a burnt communal home.
Luis Shatiwe Yanomami, a leader of the Yanomami organization Horonami, told Survival International that the problem of illegal mining has been ongoing. "‘For three years we have been denouncing the situation. There are lots of goldminers working illegally in the forest."
Luis Bello, a lawyer in Puerto Ayacucho who defends indigenous rights, says that these mining activities are on the rise 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."
Survival International says that the number of unauthorized gold miners in Yanomami territory now number 1,000. When they come, they bring diseases like malaria to the isolated tribe. The mining itself is devastating to the local environment, as it pollutes rivers with mercury. On top of the mining, the tribe faces threats from cattle ranchers who bring deforestation to the rainforest.
"This is another appalling tragedy for the Yanomami – heaping crime upon crime. All Amazonian governments must stop the rampant illegal mining, logging and settlement in indigenous territories. It inevitably leads to massacres of Indian men, women and children. The Venezuelan authorities must now bring the killers to swift justice, and send a signal throughout the region that Indians can no longer be killed with impunity. The mining and logging must be stopped," said Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International
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Survival has video of Shaman Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, who speaks about what a proposed mining bill would mean for his people.