Massacre Feared in Venezuela

August 30th, 2012

Posted to National Geographic

As many as 80 Yanomami Indians are feared dead in a village deep in the jungles of Venezuela, victims of an alleged massacre carried out last month by Brazilian gold prospectors.

According to a criminal complaint filed this week with prosecutors and military authorities in Puerto Ayacucho, capital of the state of Amazonas, the incident occurred on July 5th at the native settlement of Irotatheri at the headwaters of the Ocamo River in Venezuela’s remote Upper Orinoco region.

 

Yanomami Father and Son, Upper Orinoco, Venezuela, 2001. Photo by (c) Scott Wallace

The charges indicate that the gold prospectors may have arrived by helicopter, illegally entering Venezuela from Brazil to carry out the raid. Details were provided by three survivors who had gone out hunting early that morning and were away from the shabano – a circular communal structure typical of a Yanomami village – when the attack occurred.

“Survivors of the community who were in the jungle heard gunfire, explosions and even a helicopter in which the miners landed,” Luis Shatiwe, executive secretary of Horonami, the Yanomami rights organization that filed the complaint, told reporters. Witnesses from a neighboring village are said to have seen charred bodies and the burned remains of the shabano.

The presence of Brazilian garimpeiros – or wildcat prospectors – in the headwaters of the Ocamo River has been extensively documented since 2009, when several community members were sickened, apparently by mercury poisoning. Mercury is commonly used by miners to separate gold from ore in the field, creating a serious health hazard in wide stretches of the Amazon rainforest.

Brazilian prospectors have been invading Yanomami lands on both sides of the thinly-patrolled border for the past several decades. Roundups and crackdowns by police and military temporarily interrupt the operations, but enforcement efforts are stymied by the vast distances and a lack of resources committed to safeguard the rugged upland forest region.

The ongoing presence of miners in Yanomami lands has sown strife among natives suffering from disease, despoiled forests and rapidly changing social mores. There are an estimated 20,000 Yanomami living in small communities scattered throughout southern Venezuela and northern Brazil.

“This is a slaughter against the Yanomami people,” said Shatiwe.

 

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Peru Releases Dramatic Footage of Uncontacted Indians

October 28th, 2011

Posted to NationalGeographic.com

The Peruvian government has released dramatic new footage showing a near-encounter with a group of uncontacted Indians along a riverbank in the Amazon rain forest. The video was taken by travelers on the Manu River in southeastern Peru in recent months, according to officials from Peru’s Ministry of the Environment, who released the images on Monday.

In the video, travelers appear to be playing a game of cat and mouse with the naked tribesmen, drifting close to shore only to flee in panic in their motorboat as the natives approach. Some of the Indians brandish bows and arrows, and at one moment, one of them prepares to launch an arrow at the boat. The travelers are heard debating among themselves whether to approach, whether to back off, and if they should leave gifts of food or clothing on the shore for the Indians to take.

Officials said there have been multiple sightings in recent months of nomadic bands of Mashco-Piro Indians in the area of Manu National Park. Isolated Indians are known to travel extensively by foot during the dry season, now at its height, appearing along the riverbanks as they search for turtle eggs buried in nests along the sandy beaches of the western Amazon. But mounting pressure from logging crews, wildcat gold prospectors, and seismic teams exploring for oil and gas are flushing isolated indigenous out of the forests as well, according to Roger Rumrill, a special advisor to the Environment Ministry.

(more…)

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