Amazon Indians in Venezuela have condemned the army for failing to tackle illegal gold and diamond mining on their land. The military has been accused of creating a “climate of terror and fear,” and of “taunting and humiliating” the indigenous population.
Some officers are known to be involved in the illegal gold trade themselves, renting mining equipment and controlling access to illegal mines.
The Indians have also denounced one officer who burned down the homes of Indians who had criticized the military.
Kuyujani, an organization representing Yekuana and Sanema Indians living along the Caura river in the Amazon, has filed a complaint with the public prosecutor over the army’s failure to tackle the rampant illegal mining.
According to Kuyujani, mining has devastated the Indians’ health. The Caura river is contaminated by mercury, which has entered the Indians’ food chain and water supply. In 2013, researchers found that 92% of indigenous women living along the Caura river had levels of mercury higher than the internationally accepted limit, and a third of women had a high risk of their newborn children suffering from neurological disorders.
The boom in illegal mining has increased dramatically since 2006, and last year the government announced that it planned to open up large swathes of land to legal mining, including on Indian land. Mining encampments have exposed young Indians to alcohol, drugs and prostitution.
Despite the fact that Venezuela’s constitution recognizes the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands, very few Indians have received collective title to their territories.