More on the Allegations of an Indigenous Massacre in Venezuela

The recent story of the possible massacre of Yanomani indigenous peoples in Venezuela by Brazilian gold miners gets murkier and murkier. Although Venezuela quickly ruled that there’s no evidence any such massacre took place this past July, indigenous peoples and rights groups are asking for a more thorough investigation, arguing that the location is so isolated, there is no way the Venezuelan government could have possibly gathered all the information just by conducting flyovers in the region over the past weekend. Indeed, the groups and their supporters argue that that isolation and distance is why it took so long for them to report the massacre in the first place.

Skeptics counter that it seems unlikely that poor Brazilians mining on the border of the two countries in the Amazonian basin could have access to the resources, including helicopters, explosives, and thorough knowledge of local geographies and indigenous migration patterns. While that much is true, it is conceivable that some local elites and/or military on either side of the border may have aided the miners with resources and knowhow based on their own interests in killing and/or terrorizing the Yanomani to leave the area [and we shouldn’t rule out, however unlikely it may seem, that perhaps the miners themselves did have enough of both on their own].

However, just as compelling (if not moreso) an argument is the counter-counter regarding the Yanomani, who culturally avoid discussing the dead. As Marcos Wesley de Oliveira, a Brazilian indigenous rights activist, comments in the article, “It’s a measure of how serious the problem is that they are making these allegations.”

Ultimately, I’m more inclined to believe some sort of violence did take place, even if not on the scale originally claimed. Not only is the cultural evidence regarding typical Yanomani silence on death compelling, but indigenous peoples have been targets of violent acts from miners, landless peasants, ranchers, and others in the Amazonian basin in both Brazil and Venezuela for decades, simply because they live on protected lands (or fight for protected lands) that other groups, elite and poor alike, want. Hopefully, the Venezuelan and/or Brazilian governments don’t simply let the case fall to the wayside, and what did or did not happen can be fully uncovered and, should the Yanomani account be true, the perpetrators can be brought to justice.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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