Photo: El Mundo, retrieved.

“Chavista officials say there was a shootout, a fight at the border. There was not, they gunned us down!”

Very few times I’ve spoken to a man like Aldemaro Pérez. A 36 year-old indigenous leader, he speaks in plain terms, but unambiguously. 

“Is it true there are two Pemones dead?”, I ask.

“That’s absolutely true. We were near the border (with Brazil,) expecting what we really want, the humanitarian aid. At five in the morning, a group of soldiers arrived trying to block the border. We tried to stop them, and they shot at us.”

His voice grows louder.

“They killed two of us, Zoraida Rodriguez and her husband, and now we have four national guardsmen arrested. Three lieutenants and a sergeant, they’re our prisoners.”

It all began last night. Pemon indigenous communities gathered near the Venezuela-Brazil border, specifically at Kumaracapay, Gran Sabana municipality, expecting to help with the arrival of humanitarian aid, announced by Caretaker President Juan Guaidó for tomorrow, February 23. Besides Cucuta, Colombia, this is the other entry point of the “humanitarian avalanche.”

“We have them ourselves. Three lieutenants and a sergeant, they’re our prisoners.”

According to another source at the site who asked to remain anonymous (“this is a small town, you know,”) the Venezuelan National Guard attacked the civilians with tear gas and pellets. “They brought armored cars, shot tear gas everywhere, something we’ve never, ever, had around here. We took off running. Some of us reached the town nearby, others are going to the conflict zone even on foot, wanting to help.”

The source is careful with words: “I personally know Mrs. Zoraida was killed, and I know of eight wounded. It’s hard to say how many wounded there really are, because all of this happened as a car crash occurred nearby too. So it’s hard to say how many were hurt on the attack.”

Two things are clear. One, the situation at local hospitals is so bad, that many wounded had to be moved across the border for treatment. Two, the indigenous community indeed “arrested” military officers. Besides the soldiers Pérez mentioned, our anonymous source claims a general is also held:

“Things are very, very tense around here now. I spoke to the captain (the way Venezuelan indigenous communities refer to their chiefs) Ubencio Gómez, and he personally confirmed to me that General José Montoya and two of his bodyguards are being held. He also tells me reprisal seems to be on the way, they know of three military convoys that already crossed El Callao, about three hours from here, to reinforce their units.”

This conflict is also not a thing of “the whole indigenous nation against chavismo.”

Some conversations with these people are surreal. Aldemaro tells me, for example, that friendly indigenous communities at the Santa Elena de Uairen’s airport erupted in riot, “and they have prisoners of their own.” National Assembly’s deputies are also on site, Luis Silva and Ángel Medina among them.

Keep in mind one of the areas more affected by the savagery of today’s gold mining in Bolivar is this southern border. Since Maduro is out of dollars and crazy starved for gold, anarchy, smuggling, drugs and human traffic are everyday stuff. Between all the illegal mining and a government that keeps official information shut, nobody really knows just how bad things are at the mines. We can guess, though.

This conflict is also not a thing of “the whole indigenous nation against chavismo,” because many indigenous communities have taken part on the mining, and unashamedly support Nicolás Maduro. So, although I cannot speak about an absolute resistance to chavismo, what I can say is that those affected are very determined in making a stand.

“Brother,” Aldemaro says when I ask him if I can quote him by name, “you can use my name and quote me, because I’m not afraid, I love my people and I’m a defender of my people. We’re more alert than ever and ready to take harsher actions, because at first we wanted humanitarian aid, now we also want justice!”

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