By Ahni, August 30, 2012. Source: Intercontinental Cry
A Yanomami “shabono” (communal hut) similar to the one that was attacked from the air. Photo: larepublica.pe
An entire Yanomami community is believed to have been wiped out by illegal gold miners (garimpeiros) in southern Venezuela near the border with Brazil.
According to available testimony from three Yanomami survivors, who were out hunting on the day of the attack, in early July, a helicopter was seen flying over the remote village of Irotatheri, which is located in the headwaters of the Ocamo River in the Municipality of Alto Orinoco. The occupants of the helicopter then proceeded to destroy the community with firearms and, it appears, explosives.
It is unclear how many people died in the attack, but it is known that 80 men, women, and children lived at Irotatheri village. To date, only three Yanomami have been accounted for, the three hunters, who had to walk for six days to the nearest town of Parima-B to tell their story.
According to Luis Shatiwe Ahiwei, a leader of the Horonami Yanomami Organization, members of a nearby village went to Irotatheri to investigate. They encountered an unknown number of charred bodies and the community’s “shabono” (communal hut) burned to the ground.
On Aug 27, a joint statement (see below) was issued by HORONAMI and 13 other indigenous organizations mourning the attack and urging the Venezuelan State to open a criminal investigation, “To come to the place of the massacre and to adopt bilateral agreements with Brazil to control and watch the movement of garimpeiros in the Upper Ocamo”. They also condemned the government’s failure to take action against the garimpeiros despite the various aggressions that took place leading up to this recent massacre.
As Luis Bello, a lawyer in Puerto Ayacucho who defends indigenous rights, explained to the Guardian, the allegations are merely the latest in a series of abuses. “Reports of garimpeiros attacking different communities are becoming more and more frequent, and now we also hear of rivers being poisoned with mercury. We’ve reported to the authorities but we are so far away that is it all easily forgotten,” Bello said.
On Aug 29, Venezuelan authorities announced that they were setting up a commission to investigate the recent allegations. Continue reading