Fact Sheet: The War on Venezuela’s Indigenous People

“Maduro is the Andrew Jackson of the 21st Century.” 

Assemblyman Romel Guzamana, Leader of the Pemón Nation

Purging indigenous people from the parliament 

In the 2015 elections for the National Assembly, Venezuela’s Opposition won by a nearly 20% margin. This prompted the regime’s lame-duck parliamentary majority to pack the Supreme Court with judges loyal to the regime before the Opposition majority could be sworn in. (Source: Reuters)

In 2016, the packed Supreme Court falsely accused multiple opposition Assembly members of electoral fraud, including three indigenous members from Amazonas State. Maduro threatened to withhold funding to the Assembly for retaining these members. To save the Opposition majority’s funding that the regime had sequestered, the three indigenous Assembly members resigned their posts in a concession to the regime. (Source: The Guardian)

To get around the National Assembly repeatedly not complying with his policy agenda, Maduro created a parallel congress, the Constituent Assembly, which his party controls, to get around the National Assembly, which is the only lawful parliament in the country. (Source: AP News)

Following several incidents of government troops invading indigenous lands and shooting indigenous dissidents, the three indigenous Assembly members asked to be readmitted into the Opposition-controlled National Assembly in January 2018. (Source: El Nacional)

The first armed invasions of indigenous lands

When ‘ghost companies’ (state-supported companies trying to operate under the radar) invaded Pemón tribal lands in Bolivar State in 2017, they put cyanide into the ground to mine gold. Tribesmen had to confront them en masse with bows and arrows to get them to leave. Collusion between drug cartels, guerrilla groups, and the regime to illegally mine on indigenous lands is sadly common. (Source: Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project)

On December 8, 2018, troops from the DGCIM (Military Counterintelligence) invaded Pemón tribal lands under the alibi of shutting down ‘illegal mining operations’ (even though the indigenous stewards of that land don’t have the equipment or the capital for mining). Participating in the operation was a privately owned aircraft known to have been used by Maduro’s nephews for drug smuggling. (Source: Bellingcat)

During the December 8 invasion, the soldiers encountered fishermen of the Pemón tribe in the village of Canaima and immediately started shooting at them. One of the indigenous died of wounds later that day. (Source/videos: Caraota Digital and Venezuela en SC)

After that incursion, the Pemón Nation warned that any further invasions of indigenous land by the government would be received as a declaration of war. (Source: BBC Mundo)

The 2019 invasion

In January 2019, the Pemón Nation recognized Juan Guaido as Interim President and the Pemón Tribal Guards defected to the Guaido camp. Militants of the United Socialist Party (the regime’s party) immediately started threatening to ‘restore law and order’ to the area. (Source: EK Nuus)

On February 20, government tanks were deployed to Santa Elena de Uairen, just outside of tribal lands. (Source: El Nacional)

On February 22, two aid trucks from Brazil, meant for the indigenous communities, were blocked by a wall of National Guard troops. Hundreds of Pemón tribesmen formed a human wall across the border to protect incoming humanitarian aid while the soldiers took shots at them. Two tribesmen were killed by the soldiers and 14 were wounded. (Source: Miami Herald)

On February 22, 15 Pemón civilians were shot by the National Guard in the village of Kumarapakay, with seven killed and eight in a Brazilian hospital. Other natives went into hiding when the regime issued arrest warrants for on bogus charges. (Source: Caracas Chronicles)

On February 22, the Bolivarian National Guard invaded Pemón tribal lands to take over a local airport and block incoming humanitarian aid shipments from Brazil. Later that same day, a throng of Pemón civilians overwhelmed the soldiers and took the airport. (Source: El Impulso)

On February 23, two more Pemón tribesmen were killed by the National Guard while trying to get aid from Brazil into Venezuela. (Source: PanAm Post)

Pro-regime paramilitary forces attacked the indigenous town of Gran Sabana and arrested the mayor, who was then replaced with an appointee loyal to the regime. (Source: Infobae)

The massacre

On February 23, the regime emptied two prisons, armed the convicts, and deployed a 3,000 man army to crush the indigenous rebellion. Hundreds of Pemóns fled. (Source: PanAm Post)

On February 23 a female officer in the Pemón Territorial Guards frantically reported to a fellow tribeswoman, “Listen to me! 3,000 are coming. They already passed by here. They released all the prisoners, Rafaela! All the prisoners of El Dorado were freed, put in uniform, and sent our way. This isn’t a protest, Rafaela, this is a war that just started. They have orders to shoot at us — any of us. These are their orders, Rafaela… I don’t think we have what it takes to stand up to 3,000 of them. They already started persecuting the local chieftains.” (Source/video: German Dam)

On the night of February 23, one National Guard soldier deserted and successfully escaped to Brazil, shouting “The order is to massacre the people! They brought out the paramilitaries and they brought out the convicts to the streets to kill people!” (Source/video: Noticias RCN)

Chief Romel Guzamana denounced the massacre of 25 Pemón tribesmen by the convoy of convict-soldiers. (Source: Nuevo Herald)

Boa Vista General Hospital in Brazil reported receiving 23 Venezuelan indigenous patients with gunshot wounds. Other sources reported 58 people were arrested between February 22-23, with 20 being detained at the Fort Escamoto military base. (Source: Venezuelan Voices)

In addition to the people murdered between February 20-26, Chief Romel Guzamana reports that 80 of his people are missing. The National Assembly reported an additional 57 civilians wounded, 62 political prisoners, and 120 displaced indigenous people. (Source: Chrónica Uno)

On February 27, the National Guard came back in greater force and retook the Santa Elena de Uairen airport from the indigenous occupiers. (Source: Venezuela al Dia)

Survivors of the February 27 attack on the airport report the regime’s soldiers were shouting “We came to kill Indians!”. The soldiers reportedly also detained four indigenous occupiers of the airport and severely tortured at least three of them. (Source: Efecto Cocuyo)

Following further repression by the regime, over 900 Pemón tribesmen (3% of the tribe) were displaced and hiding in Brazil by the end of April 2019. This figure does not count displaced persons of other tribes. (Source: EK Nuus)

In July 2019, Maduro’s Minister of Prisons, Iris Varela, told the press that “If the United States threatens us with 5,000 Marines, we have 45,000 convicts at our disposal.” Previously, the ex chief of Maduro’s intelligence agency (SEBIN) revealed that the Ministry of Prisons had requisitioned 30,000 rifles from the Ministry of Defense this year. (Source: Diario Las Americas)

In July 2019, the Secretary of the Organization of American States called the military attack on the indigenous people “excessive, cruel, and a forced displacement.” (Source: Caraota Digital)

Assemblyman Romel Guzamana, leader of the Pemón Nation, speaks in the Assembly chambers about the murder and disappearance of indigenous people in Venezuela.

Photos courtesy of 800 Noticias and Alberto News.

2 thoughts on “Fact Sheet: The War on Venezuela’s Indigenous People”

  1. Venezuela has the richest oil deposits in the world. Are we surprised that the US backed regime is massacring indigenous people who defend their land?

    1. The US government is certainly guilty of enabling crimes against humanity. But in this case (and it comes directly from the Pemon chief), Maduro’s government committed the massacre to punish the indigenous for recognizing Guaido as Interim President.

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