In Venezuela, an indigenous activist was killed for opposing gold traders – liberation

An indigenous leader murdered on Thursday is the latest victim of violence in the Amazon region, where illegal metal mining and drug trafficking thrive.

Virgilio Trujillo Arana, 38, condemned illegal mining activities and the presence of armed groups on the territory of his community, the Uwottuja indigenous people of the Venezuelan Amazon. He was shot dead on Thursday in Puerto Ayacucho, the capital of Amazonas state on the border with Brazil and Colombia. According to the Observatory for the Defense of Life (Odevida), an NGO that brings together organizations from Venezuela, Colombia and Peru, 32 indigenous leaders and environmental activists were killed in Venezuela between 2013 and 2021: 21 of them “Mining Killers” and 11 by armed groups.

Virgilio Trujillo was the founder and coordinator of the Ayose Huyunami Indigenous Territorial Guardians, a self-defense group active in the Río Sipapo Basin, one of the major tributaries of the Orinoco. According to the Working Group on Indigenous Affairs at the University of the Andes in Mérida, the group fought “the extension of the raw material limit” : the proliferation of illegal gold panning, the region is the victim of a veritable gold rush.

The other plague in the region is “the presence of irregular forces”, in the words of Odevida, namely guerrillas from neighboring Colombia, made up of dissidents from the defunct FARC, disenchanted with the 2016 peace accords and turned into drug trafficking. The death of one of their main leaders, Iván Márquez, on Venezuelan territory was announced this Sunday, particularly by his former combat comrades, but has not been confirmed by official sources.

mining mafia

The Kapé-Kapé Association, another movement in defense of Venezuela’s Indian peoples, provided some information about the assassination. The leader was allegedly kidnapped in Puerto Ayacucho, then tortured, thrown out of a car and shot multiple times. The NGO assures that Virgilio Trujillo recently took part with the Venezuelan army in an operation that enabled the destruction of airstrips and drug processing laboratories and the seizure of several light aircraft.

Odevida demanded respect for a decree in force since 1989 that prohibits this “any mining activity in the State of Amazonas”. The neighboring state of Bolívar has in recent years been the scene of violence linked to illegal mining mafias in the Orinoco Mining Arc, a vast region of southern Venezuela rich in gold and other minerals such as iron and coltan. An explosive situation that the UN Human Rights Office had already warned about in 2020.

Amazonas state was also the scene of an unexplained massacre in March: four Yanomami natives were killed and four others injured in a clash with air force soldiers. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had asked Nicolás Maduro’s government to shed light on the matter and reminded it of its obligation “respect and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to their territories and natural resources”.An official commission of inquiry has been set up but has not yet published its conclusions.

In January, a joint work by several media outlets and organizations (Pulitzer Center in the United States, Earthrise Media in Norway) revealed the extent of the destruction in the various regions of the Amazon. Artificial intelligence processing of thousands of satellite images has made it possible to create a highly accurate map of illegal mines and airstrips used for gold and drug trafficking. Venezuela appears to be the worst-hit country, with more than 3,700 secret mining sites and dozens of airfields in the middle of the jungle. In 2019, a Transparency International report estimated between 70% and 90% of gold mined in the country and exported illegally.

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