Canaima’s Pemon People Mourn, and Take Hostages

Under unprecedented onslaught from illegal miners and DGCIM, indigenous people in Venezuela’s South East have had enough.

Photo: Efecto Cocuyo retrieved

By the time it was all said and done, three military intelligence officers had been disarmed, beaten and held captive by members of the Pemon indigenous community. How did Canaima’s pemones find themselves holding officers hostage who they believe to be DGCIM?

It all started when two helicopters arrived, according to a Pemon community member who asked to keep his identity anonymous. “One of them had Corpoelec insignia and another from the FANB, with what they said were 34 tourists. After they asked the boatmen and guides to give them tours, they started intimidating the natives to force them to take them to the [illegal gold] mines. That’s where the clash started,” says the witness in the Campo Carrao sector of Canaima National Park, in Bolívar. It all happened on Saturday, the day before the elections.

Three natives were wounded in the clash: Carlos Peñaloza, Cesar Sandoval and Charly Peñaloza. The latter was taken to the Ruiz and Páez Hospital in Ciudad Bolívar, where he died in surgery,” says Italo Pizarro, a Pemon native and researcher for the Kapé Kapé Observatory for Indigenous Rights.

How did Canaima’s pemones find themselves holding officers hostage who they believe to be DGCIM?

Inhabitants say that the men arrived to the sector armed and with their faces covered. In their complaints, the natives insist that only one man showed his face, GNB Major Alexander Granko Arteaga, a DGCIM officer whose face became infamous after the operation were Oscar Pérez was murdered.

It didn’t take long for the community to realize what was happening, and they retaliated by attacking the Corpoelec Camp and burning the fuel stored there. They also closed the landing strip, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the sector. The National Institute of Civil Aeronautics (INAC) suspended all air operations in the tracks of Santa Elena de Uairén and Canaima until December 14.

On Sunday, the Pemon Community made an official protest, and the Council of General Chieftains of the Pemon People issued a statement about the incident, forcing the National Electoral Council to agree to reschedule municipal council member elections in the Gran Sabana.

On Sunday, the Pemon Community made an official protest, forcing the National Electoral Council to agree to reschedule municipal council member elections in the Gran Sabana.

Although the official report doesn’t mention the force responsible for the armed incursion in the area, native people on site say that the culprits were members of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), who arrived in State aircraft. Government authorities have neither denied nor confirmed who’s responsible for the operation. This is one of the main requests from the Pemon community: they want to know what these officers are doing in their areas, what operation is taking place and what force they belong to. They also ask for a cease of violence at the hands of government authorities, and better regulations to the mining activities.

The native community holds the State accountable and expressed their assumption that the armed group “acted with the consent or complicity of State security bodies, because they used high-caliber weapons, two government helicopters, and a private helicopter allegedly belonging to the company Arameru.”

The Council of Chieftains also promoted an indefinite general strike to demand an investigation to find the culprits of this armed incursion.

Additionally, since Sunday, traffic in the Troncal 10 which communicates Venezuela with Brazil has been closed, due to the protest set up by the native communities in Waramasen, Santo Domingo, Maurak and San Antonio de Morichal, who adhered to the call for a general strike. This is the first time in almost 20 years that the Pemon community gathers to protest together.

There are 3,000 Pemon in the Canaima National Park, spread across six indigenous communities that, according to the Law of Indigenous Peoples and Communities, hold ancestral rights over these territories. Throughout 2018, indigenous communities in Bolívar have adopted an increasingly strong stance against the invasion of their lands and the violation of their traditions due to illegal mining. The Kapé Kapé Observatory for Indigenous Rights has recorded at least 12 murdered natives in Bolívar and Amazonas amidst mining-related violence in their territories.

“The natives are dying because of the violence brought by illegal mining and the incursion of paramilitary groups,” said Armando Obdola, chairman of Kapé Kapé, adding that at least 198 native communities have been affected by illegal mining in Bolívar State alone.

The Prosecutor’s Office designated the sixth prosecutor for common crimes in Gran Sabana to investigate the incidents that took place in Canaima last Saturday, and the state’s Prosecutor’s Office on Fundamental Rights will head the investigation.