Amerindian leaders in Venezuela called on Friday for “action” to protect the Venezuelan Amazon from illegal gold mines, which are proliferating in the south of the country, denouncing “environmental destruction” with the contamination of rivers by mercury used by gold panners.
“Before, we lived with the gold near us and we didn't pay attention to it. Our livelihood was fishing and farming. But today people want to follow this path of environmental destruction,” Narcisa Pereira, an indigenous Piaroa, who is part of a delegation that visited the office of the Ombudsman in Caracas on Friday, told AFP. .
“Many have been brainwashed by those who went to work in the mines,” he adds.
Native American officials denounce an increase in diseases in the region, such as colon cancer, blaming the contamination of rivers by mercury, used in gold panning.
Illegal mining sites proliferate in the southern Venezuela, in the states of Bolivar and Amazonas, rich in gold and other minerals.
Indigenous populations “cannot move freely in their territories, they are threatened, they are forced, especially young people, to join illegal armed groups or to participate in illicit activities for drug traffickers”, denounces Raul Cubas, coordinator of the NGO Observatorio para la defensa de la vida (Odevida).
“Within the same family, there are people who work in mining or with drug traffickers. Ancestral customs are being lost. Twenty years ago, young indigenous people followed the directives of their parents by defending their territory, their water, their customs. Today that has disappeared,” he explains.
On May 28, a group of Amerindians attacked a military post in the Amazon jungle without causing any injuries with bows and arrows.
At least 14 “foreigners” had been arrested according to the army, which claims that the attack was “retaliatory” to the seizure of “contraband material” destined for “illegal mining camps and criminal structures in Yapacana National Park,” tweeted General Domingo Hernandez Larez, number 2 in the Venezuelan army.