Miners set fire to Yekuana and Sanema houses

October 24, 2006

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Communal houses belonging to Yekuana and Sanema Indians living in the Caura river basin, in the southern state of Bolivar, have been burned down by gold miners. Indian leaders have received death threats and one was beaten up by miners.

The violence followed the announcement by the Yekuana and Sanema that they will not tolerate mining on their land. Some believe that the violence was organised by the miners to demonstrate their opposition to Indigenous communities in the Caura who are due to receive collective land titles from the government, totalling over four million hectares.

Following the violence, the army attempted to evict a group of miners from an illegal mine in La Paragua, and shot dead six people. Another four drowned while trying to escape the fire. The National Assembly has set up in enquiry to investigate the killings and abuse of power by the army.

The Caura River basin is home to many Yekuana, Sanema and Hoti Indians. It is an extraordinarily ecologically diverse and rich area. The forest and rivers are essential to the Indians’ livelihood and survival. The river is a rich source of fish and the communities grow vegetables and fruits in forest gardens and supplement their diet by hunting game.

A group of Venezuelan scientists has published an urgent manifesto declaring their support for the Indigenous peoples of the Caura Basin and calling on the authorities to protect the area from mining before it is too late. 

Last week, Venezuela’s environment minister admitted that there are at least 15,000 miners working illegally in Bolivar state. The government is trying to provide alternative livelihoods for the miners, but many say the plan is not working. The minister estimates that it will take 70 years to decontaminate areas polluted by the miners and 300 years to re-plant destroyed forest.